The origin of Dutch given names
As in most European countries, most given names that are currently in use are derived from the names of saints. In the 12th and 13th century, the Germanic names that were used then were slowly replaced by the names of popular saints. A few Germanic names survived, like Dirk. In the north, especially in Friesland, indigenous names remained popular, and currently many Frisian names have their origin in the pre-Christian era.
Old testament biblical names have also been popular in The Netherlands, but never to the same extent as saint names.
Children were usually named after grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles. This habit meant that generation after generation used the same names, and there was no room for new names. This changed in the last few decades, and we currently see the traditional names being replaced by a new set of names.
Traditional names usually have a long form and one or more short forms. The long form is often the official name (used in almost all documents), but in daily life the short form will have been used.
Common male names
Adrianus, Adriaan. From the Latin name Hadrianus, the name of a Roman emperor and of several popes. Short forms include Adri, Adrie, Janus. English equivalent: Adrian.
Antonius, Antonie (and several spelling variants). Latin name, and the name of several Saints. Short forms include Anton, Ton, Tony. English equivalent: Anthony.
Cornelis. From the Latin name Cornelius. Biblical name (Acts 10), and the name of a Saint. Short forms include Cees, Cor, Cnelis, Nelis.
Dirk. From the Old Germanic name Diederik. The name of several counts of Holland. One of the few Germanic names that survived without the help of a Saint.
Gerardus, Gerard, Gerrit. From the Old Germanic name Gerhard. The name of several Saints. Short forms include Gert, Geert (but the full forms Gerrit and Gerard are also used as short forms).
Hendrik. Old Germanic name. Name of a Saint, and of several German emperors and French, English and Castilian kings. The most common short form is Henk. English equivalent: Henry.
Jacobus, Jacob. From the Hebrew ja’aqob. Biblical name, and the name of several Saints, and of kings of Aragon (Jaime) and England. Short forms include Jaap, Co, Kobus. English equivalent: James.
Johannes, Jan. By far the most common male first names in The Netherlands. From the Hebrew Johanan. Biblical name, the name of many Saints, the name of an English king. The most common short form is Jan, other forms include Hans, Johan. English equivalent: John. A 1961 investigation shows that a staggering 11% of the male population used the first name Jan (source: Meertens Institute).
Pieter, Petrus. From the Greek word petra, rock. The name of the main apostle (given to him by Jesus in Matt.16:18). The most common short form is Piet. English equivalent: Peter.
Willem, Wilhelmus. From the Old Germanic name Wilhelm. The name of several Saints, the name of most Dutch stadtholders, the name of all Dutch kings, and the name of several English kings. The most common short form is Wim. English equivalent: William.
Common female names
Adriana. Female form of Adrianus. Short forms include Adri, Rie.
Anna. From the Hebrew Hanna. Biblical name, and the name of a Saint. Short forms include An, Annie, Ansje. English equivalents: Anna, Ann. Anna is one of the few traditional names that remained popular in the late 20th and early 21st century.
Catharina. Probably Greek. The name of several Saints. Short forms include Trijntje, Cato, To, Kaatje, Tinie, and many others. English equivalent: Catherine.
Cornelia. Female form of Cornelis. Short forms include Cor, Corrie, Neeltje.
Elisabeth, Elizabeth. From the Hebrew Elisjeba. Biblical name (Luke 1:5), the name of several Saints, the name of two reigning queens of England. Short forms include Lijsje, Lies, Bep.
Hendrika. Female form of Hendrik. Short forms include Riek, Rika, Hendrikje.
Johanna. Female form of Johannes. Short forms include Jo, Jannie, Jantje, Jopie. English equivalent: Jane.
Margaretha, Grietje. From the Greek word margarité, pearl. The name of several Saints. Short forms include Griet, Greet, Margreet. English equivalent: Margaret.
Maria. From the Hebrew Mirjam. Biblical name, the name of Jesus’ mother, the name of several Saints, the name of several reigning English and Scottish queens. Short forms include Ria, Rie, Marie, Marietje. English equivalent: Mary. The name Maria is also popular as the second or third (but never first) given name for boys in the Catholic parts of The Netherlands.
Wilhelmina, Willemina. Female form of Willem. Name of a Dutch reigning queen. Short forms include Mien, Mina, Willie.
Popular baby names
The list of popular names has changed drastically in the last few decades. Traditional names are still used as second or third name, but not often as first name. Common short forms of girls names, like Bep, Mien, Marietje, To or Griet, have completely disappeared. An interesting exception is Anna, number three on the list of popular girls names in 2005 (after Sanne and Emma) and number three on the list of common traditional names (after Maria and Johanna).
The government agency responsible for distributing child benefit (SVB) publishes annual lists of the most popular baby names. The top 10 for 2005 (currently offline): Sanne, Emma, Anna, Iris, Anouk, Lisa, Eva, Julia, Lotte, and Isa for girls, and Daan, Sem, Thomas, Tim, Lucas, Lars, Thijs, Milan, Jesse, and Bram for boys.
The Meertens Institute are also doing research into the origins and development of surnames in the Netherlands, and have published a large database of surnames and their meanings and origins.
If you want to know the meaning of your Dutch surname, have a look in their Database of Surnames. Click the British flag to get the search interface in English. The search result will still contain some data in Dutch, though.
The search results may contain an explanation of the origin of the name, bibliographical references, specific name characteristics and components, lists of name variations and names with similar meaning, and the distribution of the name over The Netherlands in 1947.
I did some research on their website on the five most common Dutch surnames: De Jong, De Vries, Jansen, Van den Berg, and Bakker.
With 55256 people in the 1947 census, De Jong is by far the most common name in The Netherlands. De Jong is Dutch for the young, or the younger, and was often tagged to someone’s name to differentiate from an older person with the same name.
De Vries (49298 people in the 1947 census) means the Frisian – someone from Friesland (Frisia). Friesland – now a province in the north-west of The Netherlands – was once the name of almost the entire Dutch coastal area, and it stretched well into what is now Germany.
Jansen (49213 people in the 1947 census) is a patronymic name, from the first name Jan. Jan (short for Johannes, Dutch for John) is the most common first name in The Netherlands. In many areas of The Netherlands it was (and occasionally still is) common to use a patronymic in addition to (or instead of) a surname. Pieter, son of Jan, will become Pieter Jansz (short for Pieter, Jans zoon, or Peter, John’s son), or Pieter Jans, or Pieter Jansen (both forms are possessive, meaning Peter John’s, or Peter of John).
Van den Berg (37678 people in the 1947 census, including Van der Berg and Van de Berg) means from the mountain. It is a toponymic name, probably used for people living on a relatively elevated part of their region.
Bakker (37483 people in the 1947 census) means baker, usually a baker of bread. A village baker called Jan Jansen may, even today, be known as Jan de bakker (John the baker), while his son Pieter may be known as Piet van de bakker (Pete of the baker).
The Meertens Institute, a department of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, researches given names. Over voornamen (About given names) has several articles about given names, and a large database of names with their meaning and origins (only in Dutch).
Sources for this article include Over voornamen (About given names), by Doreen Gerritzen of the Meertens Institute, the database of given names and the database of surnames at the the Meertens Institute, the lists of popular child names by the SVB, Huizinga’s complete lijst van voornamen (Huizinga’s complete list of first names), ed. A. de Jong and A. Kruijssen, 1998 (ISBN 90-5121-744-7).