Belgium is a country of 10 million people which use approximately 190,000 surnames, of which the most common is Peeters.
Typical surnames in Belgium have various linguistic origins, from
Surnames fall into the following categories:
Patronymic names – these work in the same way as Anglo Saxon names, an ‘s’ added to the name, for example Jacobs or Peeters, sometimes there is a double ‘ss’ like in the name Janssen. Some names have an ‘x’ added to the name, if it ends with an ‘k’ such as Hendrickx . There are also French equivalents, without any additional letters, such as Michel, spelt the same way for a surname as a given name.
Older names, those from the 16th Century or earlier and sounding more Germanic, might have the suffix of mart, such as in the name of Jamart. Also linking in here is names that derive from a nickname of a Patronymic name, such as Jacquard from the name of Jacques, or Pirotte from Pierre; about 50% of the top 100 names belong in this category.
Geographical names – A place of origin is indicated as van in Dutch or de (sometimes du) in French, meaning from or of. Some names are indicative of surroundings or a generic place, such as from a mountainous area which is Vanden Bergh in Flemish or Dumont in French. Similarly, woods/forest is Vandenbosch in Flemish and Dubois in French. Flemish names beginning van der might be shortened as ver for example in Vermeersch.
Noble names, linked to a village aligned to a Fiefdom – Many surnames are the same as a hamlet, village, town, city or even a regional name in the Benelux of France. These likely mean the family was of noble origin and ruled lands in that area during the Medieval period.
Roots of the Belgian nobility are from the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of France, and also influenced by the Habsburgian nobility system. The oldest Belgian noble family is probably the Limburg Strum family whose origins date from approximately 866, with the current spelling prevalent from the 13th century. Many families can trace their heritage back to the time of Charlemagne. There are about 20,000 noble people in Belgium belonging to 1300 families, of which 400 are of old nobility, predating the French Revolution.
Names typically have a prefix – de, de la, du, le in French, or van, van der, van den, de, t, or ter in Dutch. Intermarrying between noble families often results in a compound or hybrid naming structure.
Occupational names – Names such as Timmerman (Dutch) or Carpentier (French) translate to the name of Carpenter; or De Bakker (Dutch) and Boulanger (French) translates to Baker.
- Physical attributes – surnames such as De Groot (Dutch) or Legros (French) translates to big or fat; or De Lange (Dutch) or Legrand (French) translates to tall.
- Country origins – some are indicative of a country that the name bearer hailed from, this could be Lallemond which translates to the German in French, or Lerusse translating to the Russian in French.
Many Walloon names have Medieval German origins and end in art or ard.
Variant of another name – The name of Jacques probably includes the name of Jaques, Jacquard. Depending on patterns of migration and the circumstances, the name might even have become anglicised and become the name of Jacks.
I did a very quick search on FreeBMD (https://www.freebmd.org.uk/), by way of an example. I searched just for the surnames below, did not specify a type (Births, Marriages and Deaths), nor did I specify a county or region.
- JACQUES – 31,766
- JAQUES – 20,243
- JACKS – 7,384
- JACS – nil results
This is by no means a true indication, but I am sure you get the idea. I also did not try any other names, but I do have one in mind for when I get the chance.
Names introduced to the country by migration
To explore Belgian surnames click HERE
This post is part of the A-Z Challenge. It is also part of my Surname Series 2022 and for those want to focus on Non-British Surnames click HERE. You can also find more surname posts HERE.