My nephew was just born, a really cute boy. My aunt asked me whether I could propose some names for the little newcomer.
I started searching for some possible names, when a staff member walked in and asked what I was doing. I showed him the picture of my nephew and told him I was looking for a name with a good meaning for him. He asked with a big surprise: ‘How can you give his life a meaning when you do not know how it is going to be?’ He then added: ‘You do not even know what the boy wants to be, so how can you place such a burden on him?’
‘Well’, I explained, ‘the name does not stand for what we want him to be, but it expresses good wishes we have for him. For example, we could give him a name that expresses the wish that he should have a happy life.’ This convinced him somewhat, but he replied: ‘We do not have names with meanings in the Netherlands.’
Interestingly, a week later I read a story about Dutch family names, which date back to the Napoleonic period. The French ruler forced people without a surname to take one for taxation purpose, but he let people choose their surname freely. That is why we see some funny names, like Jan Jan Pieter Cornelis de Haen (Jan son of Jan, son of Pieter, son of Cornelis, surname De Haen, which means The Cock). It also resulted in some embarrassing family names that are still being used, such as Hondendorst (Dog’s Thirst), Kloot (Testicle), Eikel (Penis), Naaktgeboren (Born naked).
Well, what I can say? I do appreciate the sense of humour, but I will not use these names.
Yue Han, PhD candidate in the Laboratory of Virology, from China
Do you have a nice anecdote about your experience of going Dutch? Send it in! Describe an encounter with Dutch culture in detail and comment on it briefly. 300 words max. Send it to email@example.com and earn twenty-five euro and Dutch candy.
NL: Beladen namen
Yue Han was op zoek naar een naam met een mooie betekenis voor haar pasgeboren neefje in China. Een Nederlandse collega begreep het niet. ‘Hoe kan je zijn leven een betekenis geven als je nog niet weet wat voor mens hij wordt? In Nederland hebben namen geen betekenis’ Grappig genoeg las Yue vlak daarna dat Nederlandse familienamen zijn ontstaan in de Napoleontische periode. De Franse heerser verplichtte iedereen een achternaam te voeren, maar liet de keuze vrij. Dat leverde bijzondere namen op: Hondendorst, Kloot, Eikel, Naaktgeboren...