Long before they were all tulips, windmills, bikes and happy children, the Dutch were seafarers, explorers and conquerors. In fact, a good amount of the nautical terms used in English and many other European languages today derive from Dutch – like “bumboat”, a boat selling supplies or provisions to ships; or freebooter, a pirate, from “vrijbuiter”, or “avast”, from “hou vast”, meaning hold fast, and many more. This caused places to be discovered and places named by the Dutch.
The Dutch sailing experiences led to many results, some of which were controversial, but overall successful for finding new trade routes or discovering new lands. And of course, being the first Europeans to set foot somewhere (or the first to organize a new place), the Dutch gave it a name.
So, here are some well-known places in the world, whose names are actually Dutch, and their story. Here are 5 places named by the Dutch.
Places named by the Dutch:
1. Barents Sea: The unbearable cold
The sea, located in the northern coasts of Norway and Russia, was actually called Murmanskoye morye (Murman Sea) and appeared on maps for a first time in the 16th & 17th century under this name. Only in the 19th century, it was renamed and called after the Dutch navigator, cartographer, and explorer, Willem Barentsz in honor of his heroic expeditions in the far North.
Barentsz took three expeditions in search of a Northeast Passage which, he believed, opens north of Siberia in June every year because of the sun melting the ice and snow. The passage would also mean a new trade route to the Indies.
During the voyages, Barentsz and his crew members were often victims of the local fauna (attacked by polar bears) and the extreme weather conditions – the first two expeditions ended due to large icebergs and frozen waters. Because of this failure, the States-General refused to subsidize any further trips of this format. Instead, they offered a generous award to anyone who can successfully navigate the route to its end. The Town Council of Amsterdam provided two ships, captained by Jan Rijp and Jacob van Heemskerk, under the command of Barentsz.
The third expedition started rather well – Barentsz and company discovered the Bear Island, Spitsbergen and named a few fjords. Unfortunately, a disagreement led them to part – Heemskerk with Barentsz continued northeast, Rijp headed north. In July, Barentsz reached the icy Novaya Zemlya archipelago, but because of the many icebergs around, he and his crew remained trapped there for a whole year fighting the extreme cold. In June of the following year, those still alive decided to sail away. Barentsz died at sea only 7 days after their journey back home began. In 7 more weeks, the boats were finally rescued by a Russian ship.
In 2011, the Dutch director Reinout Oerlemans released “Nova Zembla”, a historical drama, based on the incredible story of Barentsz and his crew trapped on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago.
2. Tasmania and New Zealand: Searching for gold
Abel Tasman was a Dutch explorer and merchant, working for the VOC in the 17th century. His voyages took him to places much warmer than those of Barentsz and eventually led him to discover four of the lands we know today – Tasmania, New Zealand, Tonga, and Fiji.
In August of 1642, the Council of the Indies sent Abel Tasman and Franchoijs Visscher to explore the area known as Beach – a toponym appearing on maps as the northernmost part of Australia. Beach, which in fact is a mistranslation of Locach, was mentioned on many maps and by many travelers prior to Tasman, but what’s more – it was a land described by Marco Polo as one with plentiful of gold.
As with many other journeys, travelers had to count on maps often based on mistaken or mistranslated texts and descriptions. This was also the case with the voyage of Tasman – following Marco Polo’s descriptions and the subsequently made maps of the region, he traveled to seek the land of gold to the south of the Solomon Islands. At the end of November in 1642, after a stop at Mauritius Island and a storm, which directed the ship to north-east, Tasman saw the coast of a new land. In the good old tradition of the time, he named it after his sponsor – Van Diemen’s Land, after Antony van Diemen, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies. Only on 1 January 1856, the land was renamed to Tasmania in honor of the first European who set foot there.
Just 13 days after “finding” Tasmania, Abel Tasman also saw the shores of New Zealand. Unfortunately, he was not aware of that – he thought this is a land, connected to Isla de los Estadors in Argentina, hence he charted it as Staten Landt (both names given in honor of the States-General). In a few years time, in 1645, Dutch cartographers corrected Tasman’s mistake and named the land Nova Zeelandia, after the Dutch province of Zeeland.
Upon his return voyage, Tasman and his ships passed through the Tongan archipelago, spotting the Fiji islands, which the explorer named Prince William’s Islands.
3. Easter Islands: A troubled journey
In August of 1721, the Dutch West India Company decided to commission a search for the mythical Terra Australis, also hoping to open a western trade route to the Spice Islands (The Maluku). Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen was sent to complete the task. He sailed to the South Atlantic Ocean, entered the Pacific Ocean and continued further south.
Much like many before him, Roggeveen looked for one thing to find another. He, however, skipped the largely observed tradition of naming newly found lands after royalties or sponsors of the trip and decided to honor the day he saw the land – Easter Sunday, 5 April 1722. Perhaps, he followed the example of British captain William Mynors who saw an island in the Indian Ocean on Christmas Day of 1643, and named it… Christmas Island.
Jacob Roggeveen explored 12 islands but his trip was far from trouble-free. He lost his flagship and had a violent, deathly encounter with the inhabitants of some of the islands. Upon returning to the Netherlands, the Dutch East-India Company, VOC had him arrested for violating their monopoly and confiscated the remaining two ships. Only after a long lawsuit was Jacob Roggeveen acquitted and compensated for his losses.
4. Mauritius: The abandoned prince
Today’s independent state has a very long colonial history with the Dutch, the French, the British. There are strong pieces of evidence that the island was known already to Arab sailors even before the European expeditions. In the 14th century, Portuguese sailors visited the then uninhabited land and their cartographers gave it a name – Mascarenes but took no interest in it.
At the end of the 16th century, in 1598, bad weather while passing the Cape of Good Hope changed the route of 5 of a total of 8 Dutch ships which eventually sailed to the shores of Mauritius. Under the command of Wybrand van Warwyck, they anchored and named the island Prins Maurits van Nassaueiland, after Prince Maurits of the House of Nassau.
The Dutch made a settlement on Mauritius for their ships passing through this sea route and had it for 20 years but eventually abandoned it. The island was taken over by the French who changed its name to Isle de France and used it, among other things, to raid on British commercial ships. That lasted up until 1810 when the British took control over the island and returned its Dutch name.
5. In and around New York – some honorary mentions
A fair amount of today’s American toponyms came from the Dutch language on the account of the first settlers there, therefore there are many of these places named by the Dutch. The Dutch heritage is particularly visible in and around New York (previously known as New Amsterdam).
Here are just a tiny fraction of examples:
- Rhode Island, one of the theories says that it was named by the Dutch trader Adriaen Block, who when passing by it, described it as “een rodlich Eylande” perhaps due to red clay
- Staten Island, named after the States-General, Staaten Eylandt, from Staten-Generaal
- Harlem, named after the Dutch city, Haarlem
- Wall Street, located in what was then known as Nieuw Amsterdam, a 17th-century Dutch settlement on the tip of Manhattan, the street was then, most probably known as de Waalstraat, on the account of a wooden palisade, that was protecting the settlement form the natives and the British.
Did you know about any of these places named by the Dutch? Let us know which (if any), in the comments!