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van is a very common prefix in Dutch language surnames, where it is known as a tussenvoegsel. In those cases it nearly always refers to a certain, often quite distant, ancestor's place of origin; examples of this in English can be found in the names Greta Van Susteren "from Susteren" and Rembrandt van Rijn "from the Rhine".[note 1]
In surnames, it can appear by itself or in combination with an article (compare French de la, de l'). The most common cases of this are van de, van der and van den, where the articles are all current or archaic forms of the article de "the". Less common are van het and van 't, which use the similar but neutral article het. Common is also the contraction ver- of van der, which can be written as a single word with the rest of the surname; an example can be found in Johannes Vermeer (van der meer "of the lake").
The German "von" is a cognate of Dutch "van", though unlike the German "von", the Dutch "van" is more often part of a common surname than an indication of nobility or royalty. It can both imply nobility (Willem van Oranje "William of [the] Orange [family]") or signify any ancestral relation to a particular place (Jan van Ghent "John [who hails] from Ghent").
The preposition "van" is the most widely used preposition in Dutch surnames, but many others are also used, although not always recognized as such if the whole surname is written as a single word. Just as "van" all these prepositions used to indicate geographical locations:
- te — meaning "at" (or/of towards), (or ter and ten, being the old dative forms), e.g., ter Beek (of the stream)
- thoe/thor — being the old forms of te as in Thorbecke (meaning at the brook)
- aan — meaning "at" or "aside", e.g., aan de Stegge (meaning aside the road)
- op — meaning "on" (also in combination op de, op den, op 't, op der), e.g., as in Op den Akker (on the field)
- in — meaning "in" (in combination with the neutral particle: in 't), e.g., in 't Veld (in the field)
- uit — or archaic uyt, meaning "out" or "from", e.g. Uytdehaage (from The Hague or from the hedge).
- over — meaning "over" or "from the other side", as in Overeem (from the other side of the river Eem)
- onder — meaning "under" or "below" or "at the bottom": Onderdijk, Onderwater
- achter — meaning "behind": Achterberg (behind the mountain)
- bezuiden — meaning "south of": Bezuidenhout (south of the woods)
- boven — meaning "above" or "up": Bovelander (up in the land)
- buiten — meaning "outside" or "in the country": Buitenhuis (outside the house)
- zonder — meaning "without": Zonderland (without land) or Zondervan (without van, e.g. without a surname beginning with van)
Apart from these prepositions the prefix "de" (not a preposition but an article, meaning "the") is also very common. They indicate a property, quality or origin, as in "de Lange" (the tall one), "de Korte" (the small one), "de Groot" (the big one), "de Zwart", "de Wit", "de Rode" (the one with black, white, red hair or skin), "de Rijke" (the rich one). The most widespread is "de Vries" (the Frisian).
For Dutch people of French (usually Huguenot) origin whose ancestors never modified their surnames to fit Dutch norms, the prefix "de" is a preposition similar in meaning to "van".
Collation and capitalisation
- In the Netherlands, and Suriname, names starting with "van" are filed under the initial letter of the following name proper, so Johannes van der Waals is filed under "W", as:
Waals, Johannes van deror
van der Waals, Johannes.
- The "v" is written in lower case, except when the surname is used as standalone (when the first name or initials are omitted), in which case it is capitalised, as in "de schilder Van Gogh" ("the painter Van Gogh"). In Dutch, compound terms like "de Van Goghtentoonstelling" ("the Van Gogh exhibition") the "v" is capitalised, unless the connection between the person and the concept is or has become very weak.
- Some scientific terms derived from names have become words in their own right, such as vanderwaalsstraal ("van der Waals radius"). In English, The American Chemical Society Style Guide recommends writing "van der Waals", "VandenHeuvel" and "van't Hoff–Le Bel".
- The Dutch filing usage does not apply for Afrikaans names in South Africa. For instance, in South Africa the surname Van der Merwe would be listed under the "v" section as is done in Belgium (see below) and not under "m", however South Africa follows the same capitalisation convention as the Netherlands (thus, one would refer in English or in Afrikaans to a "Jan van der Merwe" when the first name is included, but simply to "Van der Merwe" when the first name is omitted).
- In Belgium, any surnames beginning with "Van" or "van" are filed under "V". So for example Eric Van Rompuy is listed under the "V" section, not under the "R". The lowercase spelling in a name from the Netherlands is respected but not necessarily differentiated in alphabetical ordering and its Dutch style capitalization for certain usages is generally unknown and thus not followed. The painter's full name however, having become commonplace, is usually spelled Vincent Van Gogh in Belgium. In Flemish surnames the "V" is always capitalized though a following interjected "de", "den" ('the') or "der" ('of the', 'from the') usually stays lowercase. Names as Van der Poorten, Vander Poorten and Vanderpoorten include a double genitive, in which case Van made it a patronym - literally "Of from the Gates", originally a son or daughter of the man referred to as coming from the gates: each of these family names goes back to a child of assumedly an emigrant from the then nearest walled city. "Van der" or "Vander" also occurs contracted to "Ver" and then must never be separated from the main term, e.g. in the surname Verpoorten. Names starting with "Van" and its derivatives often refer to a placename (never with any de- form) or some word for a location (toponym). Few with "Van" relate to other common sources as professional occupations and physical characteristics, though for instance Van der Jeugd, Van der Kinderen and Vanden Avond atypically refer to 'youth', 'children' and 'evening' respectively.
- In anglicised versions of Dutch names (as in Dick Van Dyke, George Vancouver, Martin Van Buren), the "van" is almost always capitalised in the United States, but in the British Isles some families of Dutch origin continue to use the Dutch form (e. g. Caroline van den Brul).
- Where the word "Van" is not of Dutch origin, such as in the Vietnamese middle name Wen or Van (as in Dương Văn Minh, Nguyễn Văn Thiệu) there is no reason to use a lower case "v."
In some names, usually those of the Flemish/Belgian ones, and also some of the names of people from outside the Low Countries (with Dutch-speaking immigrant ancestors), the prefixes are concatenated to each other or to the name proper and form a single-worded or two-worded surnames, as in Vandervelde or Vande Velde. Prominent examples include "Vandenberg" and "Vanderbilt".
In the United States some English surnames were later given the preposition Van,[why?] such as in the case of Van Owen or Van Blake. Since Owen and Blake don't represent geographical locations, they are not original Dutch "van" surnames.
Prominent people with Van in their surname
- Abraham Van Helsing, fictional character (Dutch doctor & vampire hunter) from Bram Stoker's 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula
- Adriaen van der Donck (c. 1618–1655), lawyer and landowner in New Netherland
- Adriaen van der Werff (1659–1722), Prominent Dutch Baroque painter
- Albertus van Raalte (1811–1876), Calvinist preacher and leader of Dutch immigrants to Michigan
- Alex Van Halen (born 1953), drummer of Van Halen
- Andries van Wesel (1514-1564), Flemish anatomist & physician
- Anneliese van der Pol (born 1984), Dutch-American actress and singer
- Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), painter
- Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723), scientist
- Armin van Buuren (born 1976), popular Trance DJ
- Ben van Beurden (born 1958), Current CEO of Royal Dutch Shell plc.
- Cameron van der Burgh (born 1988), South African swimmer
- Carice van Houten (born 1976), actress
- Caroline van der Leeuw - Caro Emerald (born 1981), popular singer
- Cornelis Van Niel (1897-1985), Dutch-American microbiologist
- Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794–1877), American business magnate and philanthropist
- Dick Van Dyke (born 1925), actor and comedian
- Earl Van Dorn (1820–1863), Confederate general during the American Civil War.
- Nick Van Exel (born 1971), basketball player
- Eddie Van Halen (born 1955), guitarist of Van Halen
- Edwin van der Sar (born 1970), football player
- Giedo van der Garde (born 1985), racing driver
- Giovanni van Bronckhorst (born 1975), football player
- Greta Van Susteren (1954–), Fox News journalist
- Guido van Rossum (1956-), inventor of the Python programing language
- Gus Van Sant (born July 24), film director, screenwriter, painter, photographer, musician and author
- Hendrik Willem van Loon (1882–1944), author, historian and journalist
- Henry van de Velde (1863–1957), Belgian painter, architect and interior designer
- Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff (1852-1911), Dutch physical & organic chemist, first winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry
- Jacob van Campen (1596-1657), Dutch Golden Age architect
- Jacob van Ruisdael (c.1629– 1682), Dutch Golden Age landscape painter
- Jaap van Zweden (born 1960), violinist and conductor
- James Van Allen (1914-2006), space scientist
- James Van Fleet (1892–1992), U.S. four star general
- James Van Der Beek (born 1977), television, film, and stage actor
- Jan Baptist van Helmont (1579-1644), Flemish chemist & physician
- Jan van Eyck (c. 1395-1441), painter
- Jan van Riebeeck (1619-1677), Dutch colonial administrator and founder of Cape Town
- Jean-Claude Van Damme (born 1960), Belgian martial artist, actor and director
- Johannes Diderik van der Waals (1837–1923), physicist
- Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (1547-1619), statesman
- Johnny Vander Meer (1914-1997), baseball player
- John Hasbrouck Van Vleck (1899-1980), American physicist & mathematician, co-awarded the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics
- Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679), Dutch Golden Age writer & playwright
- Joran van der Sloot (born 1987), convicted murderer
- Kiliaen van Rensselaer (1586–1643), merchant
- Lee Van Cleef (1925-1989), actor
- Louis van Gaal (born 1951), football player and manager
- Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969), German-American architect
- Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827), composer and pianist
- Mamie Van Doren (born 1931), actress, model, singer and sex symbol
- Mario Van Peebles (born 1957), actor, director
- Martin Van Buren (1782-1862), eighth president of the United States
- Marco van Basten (born 1964), football player, manager
- Menno van Coehoorn (1641-1704), military engineer
- Michael van Gerwen (born 1989), Dutch professional darts player
- Monique van de Ven (born 1952), actress
- Olivier van Noort (1558-1627), explorer, first Dutchman to circumnavigate the world
- Paul van Dyk (born 1971), DJ/music artist
- Pieter van den Hoogenband (born 1978), swimmer
- Pieter Adriaanszoon van der Werf. (1529-1604), Mayor of Leiden during the Siege of Leiden
- Rafael van der Vaart (born 1983), footballer
- Raymond van Barneveld (born 1967), darts player
- Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669), painter
- Rob Van Dam fictional wwe character (born 1970), pro wrestler
- Robert J. Van de Graaff (1901–1967), physicist, developed the Van de Graaff generator
- Robin van Persie (born 1983), football player
- Ronnie Van Zant (1948-1977), lead singer of the American rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Ruud van Nistelrooy (born 1976), football player
- Simon van der Meer (1925-2011), particle accelerator physicist, Nobel Prize in Physics in 1984
- Shane van Gisbergen (Born 1989), race car driver
- Steven Van Zandt (born 1950), musician, songwriter, arranger, record producer, actor, and radio disc jockey
- Todd Van Steensel (born 1991), Australian baseball player
- Townes Van Zandt (1944-1997), musician, and songwriter
- Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), painter
- Willebrord Snel van Royen (1580-1626), Dutch astronomer & mathematician
- Willem van Oranje (1533–1584), nobleman, founder of the Dutch nation
- Willem Hendrik van Oranje (1650–1702), Stadtholder of the United Provinces of the Netherlands (1672–1702) and King of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1689–1702)
- Maerten Harpertsz Tromp, a famous Dutch admiral from the 17th century, was also known as Maerten Harpertsz van Tromp and even Maerten Harpertsz van der Tromp.
- While Rembrandt was actually born close to the Rhine, he merely inherited the name from his father who already carried it. Van Susteren neither lived nor was she born in Susteren, but it can be assumed that her namesake patrilinear ancestor was. Such names often go back centuries and may once have been mere self-imposed titles that their children then adopted.
- http://woordenlijst.org/leidraad/16/2 Regel 16.B
- http://woordenlijst.org/leidraad/16/2 Regel 16.D
- The ACS Style Guide. Chapter 9: "Gammar and Spelling". http://pubs.acs.org/isbn/9780841239999.
- "Vlaamse Volksvertegenwoordigers Per Fractie".