At dinner with some Dutch mates, the conversation suddenly turned to quirky Dutch surnames: Gekkehuis (Madhouse), Naaktgeboren (Born naked), Borst (Breast), Uittenbroek (Out of his Pants) and Spring in 't Veld (Jump in the Field). It was fascinating and for a brief moment I wondered how on earth they can have names with meanings like this, especially in the light of the culture I come from where people always take care when giving names as they should have nice meanings and attributes.
So, what's the story with Dutch surnames? In 1811, the French, under Napoleon, occupied the Netherlands. They started a census for taxation purposes and forced everyone to have a family name, which was not a common practice for the Dutch. They thought this would be a temporary measure, and took on comical or offensive-sounding names as a practical joke on their French occupiers. This may not be true in all cases as there are names that were aggrandizing rather than demeaning: De Groot (The Great). Van Dijk is another all-time favourite but boringly enough it refers to the Dutch preoccupation with keeping sea water out of their clogs rather than to the mother's sexual preference. My personal favourite is Van den Berg (from the mountain) as I was born and raised in the Himalayas (Kashmir). So I will probably consider using it as my surname henceforth.
Rashid Kazmi from Pakistan, PhD researcher in Plant Physiology.