What is a ‘roepnaam’? One of the best Dutch quirks explained

Why is it that we, the Dutch, often assume that the way we do things is the best way? And that any other way, is the lesser way? Take the ultra Dutch phenomenon roepnaam.

Not every international living in the Netherlands will be familiar with the Dutch phenomenon roepnamen (roughly translated to “daily names”) but many, if not most of your Dutch friends, will have one.

READ MORE | Top baby names in the Netherlands: is your name on the list?

Roepnamen — why bother with two names?

The Dutch use their roepnaam because many of the Dutch have been given traditional Christian names by birth that aren’t very sexy, to say the least. Think, Jacobina, Gernolda, Cornelia, Adolphine, or Maria (for a boy!)

Most people who use their roepnaam instead of their official name(s) are so used to this tradition that it is just the way it is. Not a discussion-worthy topic.

Then why this article? Good question. The answer is quite simple. As soon as you cross the borders of the Netherlands this system can raise some (more like many) eyebrows.

Culture shock in Australia

My name is, and always has been, Janneke. It’s typically Dutch, hard to pronounce for non-Dutch speakers, and not the easiest name to have when you live in an English speaking country.

Working in Australia, an average day in the office for me would be something like: “Can you spell that for me again, please?” “Sorry, I didn’t get that. Veronica”? “How do spell that? Y-a-n-i-c-a?” Dozens of times a day. Day in day out. If only I was given another name when I was born… Wait a second, I actually was given another name when I was born! Think that roepnaam makes no sense? Ask any of your Dutch friends — I’m definitely no exception.

The Dutch way always makes sense

So this was the system: children would be given a bunch of official names (three in my case) and an extra (like three isn’t enough…) roepnaam. Family and friends would receive a card in the mail announcing the birth of the baby, stating the official names, with underneath a phrase that would be something like: ‘and we call her (or him) …. (insert roepnaam).

The only time my official name was used growing up was at times I instinctively knew I was in trouble. I would hear this roar going through the house “JOOOHHHANNNAAAAA.” My only thought whenever I heard that name was RUN! As fast as you can! Needless to say, I didn’t like my official name very much. But as I rarely had to use it I never worried about it so much. Then, some 30 years later, I decided to move to Australia and I soon found out in what kind of mess this schizophrenic naming system could potentially get me.

Our names you ask? Don’t even get us started. Image: Workcycles/Wikimedia Commons/CC3.0

Who am I?

Let me ask you this: have you ever looked an Australian cop straight in the face after being called out on giving up a false name? In a car full of drunk friends? I have… We had been clubbing this one night and I was the designated driver. We were pulled over to take a breathalyzer test, which I passed. That wasn’t the issue. 😅

The cop asked me for my driver’s licence (still no issue) and asked me for my name… “Janneke.” “Can you please spell that for me, Miss?” “J-a-n-n-e-k-e.” Raised eyebrows on the other side of my car window. “Can you get out of the car a second please?” My friends got slightly nervous by then, but I still had no clue as to what the problem could be.

“Can you please explain to me why you have a different name on your licence than the one you just gave me?” The giggly atmosphere in the car suddenly dropped. The temperature rapidly plummeted to below zero and everyone was instantly sober. Complete silence. Five pairs of eyes stared at me like I was a criminal. I stumbled and explained the whole ‘system’ we have in The Netherlands when it comes to names, but it didn’t sound very convincing.

It was clear to me now that this was serious and I needed to address it before I would end up in an Australian prison for perjury! Of course, my roepnaam was registered somewhere, right?! It had to be. On my birth certificate. For sure. It wasn’t. The name I had been using for 30 years did not exist. Anywhere. No official paperwork that had my name on it.

No more roepnaam for you missy

I had to jump through a ton of hoops to change the “false name” I had been using on official paperwork. From my employment contract to my rental agreement to my public transport card and everything in between.

Good luck trying to explain to a government official how you by accident committed a crime by using a false name, that you actually didn’t know was a false name in the first place. What a joy! Anyway, the next time you think you might be dealing with a spy, it’s probably just a harmless Dutchie that happens to have very confused parents.

What do you make of this weird Dutch quirk? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image: FamVeldman/Depositphotos

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in December 2017, and was fully updated in December 2021 for your reading pleasure.

Janneke Hazelaar
Janneke is a true digital nomad, business owner, translator and writer. Born and raised in the Netherlands, calling Rotterdam home. She has a master’s degree in Law and specialises in legal translations. She tries to have a location free life as much as possible which has lead her to Perth, Western Australia (for now).

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  1. Eldest of a Dutch family which emigrated to Canada in 1951 with 7 children, I was 8 y old. One more born in Canada. Therefore 8 children total. When my Canadian fiancee first mett this extended family, usually on busy occasions she thought there must be dozens of my brothers and sisters; a Wim and a Bill, a Bernie (Bernardina) and Narda, a Ria and Maria, a Liz and an Els, a Lidwina and a Lidy and finally, the Canadian and simple ones, Ben and Gerry. It took her several years to figure it all out!

    • I am Lidwina and
      Lidy as well! Have always loved my unusual name in the USA. Have a Will for Willibrordus, Joop for Joseph, Jan for Johannes, Vera for Veronica, and a few others. I love this Dutch tradition.

  2. Good lord, there is nothing unique about roepnamen. To dedicate a 3 page article to this is ludicrous. Why the Dutch feel the need to find words or habits that are uniquely Dutch and then make a big case of it is beyond me. Don’t start another article explaining the the word or concept “gezellig” can’t be translated in English – it can and is and it’s meaning is no different. Same for roepnamen. Bill vs William, Dick vs. Richard (always like that one). Anyway, let’s get real here..

    • Jan Willem (yes that is two names but actually one in Dutch, a real headache outside of the Netherlands)

      I am going to call you Cranky Fredo. I enjoyed reading this but if you don’t like this type of (light and ironic) content I suggest you stop reading this website – waste of everyone’s time 🙂

  3. Come on Janneke! No one in the Netherlands yses her/his roepnaam on official papers! You should know better than to do that!
    Grtz Bram (Abraham)

    • Hi Bram (Abraham)! I guess I never thought about it before moving overseas. Of course I knew my official paperwork in the Netherlands always states your official name, I just never realised how difficult it would be here (in Australia) to keep using my roepnaam as I did back home. Call me naive 🙂

  4. Hi there, I’m Dutch and I received my roepnaam at birth. My official name is Cornelis, “but we call him Kees” was what my parents decided. So all of my life, I mean ALL of it, I’m called Kees (pronounce like English “case”).
    There are hundreds and thousands of men called Cornelis with roepnaam Kees. But there is NOone anywhere on earth that can explain how Cornelis became Kees.

    So I guess I’l have to be very careful when I go and live in another country. Before reading this article I actually never ever thought about this. It’s so natural for the Dutch to have a roepnaam, that noone considers it strange.

    • You’re correct Kees (Cornelis)! It’s so normal for us, that I never gave it any thought either before moving overseas 🙂

  5. Dear writter of this article, you are absolutely wrong! A “roepnaam” as you call it, is the rule with Greek people. My real name is “Anastasia” but I am called “Tassoula”. Tassoula is derived from Anastasia, if you cut part of “Anastassoula” which means “little Anastasia”! So, even more complicated!


    from a Greek-Dutch

    • Hi Anastasia! I don’t really understand what makes say I’m ‘absolutely wrong’. All the article is describing is the struggle for me personally, living overseas and having a different name on my passport as the one my parents gave me at birth. I do see the similarities with your name though, so maybe it isn’t ‘just’ Dutch. However, in my personal life, I have not yet come across another person (besides Dutch people) that have a similar problem as I do 🙂

  6. Lived in the country formore than 20 years and took the roepnaam to be the name you are usually called and definitely diffetent from whay is on your passpory but yout article has been very enlighening and your personal story hilarious though not fun for you!

  7. I’m Dutch and all the people I know use their official names on official papers… And it’s not such a strange concept. If you’re name is William you would be called Bill in the US. I know it’s not the same but it’s not that strange a concept either.

  8. What about Rory from Gilmore Girls? She is definitely not Dutch or written by someone Dutch but her ‘real’ name is Lorelei.

  9. haha….. we have the same problem. Are in Australia for nearly 36 years and in the beginning when you went to the doctors,and they called out Johanna, as many Dutch girls are called, I didn’t listen as my name is Anneke. They called again and finally it dawned on me that they called me. My husbands name is Hans but officially it is Johannes. That gave us some problems at the bank, as our birth date are 3 days apart and in the same month the only difference is the year. they massed it up every time, then the wrong date, then the wrong year, then the wrong date and year etc. etc. The doctors now now that my name is Anneke and when called in they call me by my real name Änneke” As that is my real name, the other names are just given when I was baptised. As it says on my geboorte kaartje We hebben een dochter haar naam is Anneke en bij het heilig doopsel ontvings zij, Johanna Frederika Maria. My mother couldn’t even believe that they called me Johanna here. She said ÿour name is Anneke not Johanna. That is only your baptism name. Yes, mum, that is what is on my birth certificate and on my passport, so that is what they call me here. But now even Medicare that i go also under the name Anneke, as once the doctor wrote on the paperwork, Anneke. Luckily I have my “geboorte kaartje” and after showing it, they put Anneke on the record as well. Glad my boys have only got one name even though they are born in Holland.

    • I still have to pay extra attention when I go to the gp to make sure I don’t miss my turn… I’m glad you can relate Johanna 😉

  10. My name is Évely and my Dutch friends decided to call me Evy. The sound of |E| from my official name is open…and from my roepnaam is closed. I am learning to hear my own name from a different way….when I am in Netherlands.

  11. All my life i have been called gaby. Which i use with allsorts of companies. The bank however has my official names and where reluctant to cash a check in with Gaby on it, as my official name is Gabrielle. I had hoped my roepnaam was on my birth certificate, but as you know it is not. Explaining this over and over…. at least a lot of people can see Gabrielle and gaby as an abbreviation. My husband and i were very clear when we named our children… it had to be short, pronounceable in Dutch and English and in no way to be able to make shorter.

  12. Fun article but the daily name isn’t a Dutch phenomenon. It’s pretty common around the world perhaps especially where people may be named for other people. Almost all of my Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim friends have them. Many of my American, Irish, Italian, Peurto Rican, Mexican, Canadian friends too. Their parents decided to give them a different daily name than their official name. In America people found out your official name on the first day of school because even if your parents fill in your daily name the “official” people wouldn’t use it. I often had teachers call me by my official name, and I would forget to answer.

    Still I’m surprised an Australian cop would be confused.

  13. Holland is not the only country with a roepname. In Iceland they have a roepname, but a litlle bit more regulated: all man´s roepnames end with i and woman´s with a. In the middle you have 2 consonants. Sigurður becomes Siggi and Sigríður becomes Sigga. So,the Dutch are not as special as they think they are.

  14. It happens in the UK too, on my partners roster shows the passport names of the crew he will be flying with. One of his first weeks with the company he walked into the crewroom and asked the captain are you Richard he said yes in my passport but you can call me Paul. Two years further down the line I see it on a daily basis when checking in passengers booked with their roepnaam but it needs to be matching with the passport…

    • Don’t get me started…Etihad airlines wont except your booking name if its different from your passport. Cost me an extra $600 to cancel ticket and reissue new one.

  15. For almost 16 years I had a college we called Ashna… she was born in Suriname with an India / Sri lanka background. But on a day her mobile rang and she picked up with Sandra. Her real official name was Sandra. We never knew and ahe worked already more then 17 years for the company by Ashna….her third name. She thought that Sandra and here background was not a match….

  16. Dutch born & raised, in America now, having the same problem! I think the difference with other cultures who have roepnamen, daily names or simply abbreviated names, is that they don’t put it on their birth announcements?

    Then people try to pronounce my name ‘correctly’, the Dutch way, which they can’t. it sounds horrible. I beg them to just promounce it the American way, that’s alright by me!

  17. It makes me laugh !
    You should take let s say a Mauritian newspaper .Birth and deaths .You read the official name let s say
    Rahvin Adyai Visham Anil Nizam Seegoomur Ramgoolam .Nobody would exept maybe the parents who gave the child this name ,would know who it is .So ,for better understanding they put
    “better known as Bob “

  18. I can totally relate to this. Born in South Africa from Dutch mother Adrianna Cecilia baptised but called Adri, and Father Thomas Frederik but called Tommie. I was baptised Anna Sophia but every one called me Ansie.
    Now living in Australia, I have the same problems re official papers and non official correspondence. Here everybody pronounce my name Ancy so I have to concentrate when people call me. !!

  19. My Dad migrated from NED to Australia in the early 1950s.
    His name was Bob. Just Bob. No other name, roelnaam or anything else official. He had the reverse to your problem here, where Bob is a shortened form of Robert. Official letters and the like where always addressed to ‘Robert…’

  20. My name is Louis but the dutch pronounced as Louwie .When I was small it quickly became Louwietje and when I grew up Wiet .

  21. What is the translation of “Roepnaam” in english? Nickname sounds wrong. Christian name is only as a “doopnaam”.

  22. Dear Janneke, what an entertaining text! Great. Tell me about it, I/we called my Aussie born daughter Dieuwertje, plus other two long ones. She can tell you worse.
    English, I’d say, DOES also use ‘roepnamen’. E.g. Parents who baptized/ registered their son as William, may call him Bill. Why is not clear, to me; perhaps because he was named after an English king, who then turned out to have been French (as in W the Conqueror) or Dutch (as in W III*). The term ‘daily name’ just hasn’t become popular yet.
    I also translate massive volumes of Dutch to English, but specialize in the 16/17th century variety, which is actually quite a different language (see the 1602 charter of the V.O.C. on the net). Don’t want to be a grouch (kniesoor), but you will find that the word ‘roepnaam’ already existed before Anne Frank was born. Cheerio P.R.
    * who was known as King Billy in Scotland, though.

  23. just be a dutch parent who calls your child a nice name that they will like and be proud of and not have to change! voila issue solved for future generations.
    im uk and im translating dutch texts, i do not know what to put for roepnaam so im here on this page finding out what it is! i think i’ll translate it as chosen name, in casual language we would just say goes by the name of

  24. This is so hilarious! You made me cry of laughter! And extra kudos to Abuzer, your comment still makes me laugh 😅 Reading this makes me miss living in the Netherlands. Great job!

  25. Hi Anneke / Johanna ;-),
    I really enjoyed your blog. I recently moved to the Netherlands and found this “Roepmann” term while filling a doctor’s appointment request. I come from Cuba and even though I’m used to some people being called on a different name than their birth certificates (ex. “Babi” instead of “Barbara”), it’s always clear that these are just “street” (informal) names and they don’t have any official status whatsoever. Meaning, they will never be asked for in any form of any kind, like seems to be the case in here. So, I found the way it works here in The Netherlands very interesting and hilarious (in a good way). Thank you for explaining it :-). Now I’m going to start asking my Dutch Friends about their “real” names, who knows, maybe someday I’ll need to scream at them for not doing the dishes or something 😂

  26. Hey Janneke, I discovered your article after I had the experience of explaining to the Swedish Embassy why my work contract says my name is “Paul”, and not “Paulus”. Fun read, totally relatable.

    I moved to Sweden 4 years ago, and although I’ve become aware, I still end up in situations where I accidentally used my “real” name, instead of my passport name.

    I signed an official work contract, and my name was written as “Paul” matching my e-mail address and the name I use to sign my e-mails to my then future employer. Obviously I didn’t notice it was wrong before I signed.

    My parents sent a gift to “Paul”, and at the post office, they refused to hand it to me because my name was not matching my ID-card. This goes for any other things I tried to sent from existing accounts from the Netherlands to Sweden.

    I’ve become more aware, but it sure is a pain and sometimes it haunts me at important moments.

  27. Official first name Hendrik, roepnaam Henk op geboortekaartje. Lived and worked in many countries. Did meet roepnamen in quite a few countries. GB: William was called Bill; F: Jacqueline became Jacqui; RO: Ioan short named Ionut; D: Wilhelm modernized into Willy, and so on.

  28. It is à vert difficultés thing. I live in France and nobody will understand it… My name of birth is Élisabeth Catharina and my “roepnaam” Elly. That is who I am : Elly… But it gives a lot of difficulties because on my passport and Carte d’identité is written Elisabeth Catherine, so everywhere they say no it is not you… For example when I have to take a parcel and they look at my passport… I will ask if it is not possible to add my roepnaam on my carte d’identité because it is awful…

  29. I am half Italian half American given the name Gabriella at birth. In Italy nicknames are usually shortened versions of the second half of your first name (not going to write it here as I dislike it).

    Many years down the line, I’m at an international school in The Netherlands and a year mate decided to call me by a name completely unrelated to my real name. He called me Toni and it stuck throughout my school days. Why, you may ask? His reasoning was that Gabriella was too long a name for such a short girl (I’m 1.60m), so he gave me a short name. Another year mate explained to someone new that my name is Toni because all Italians are in the Mafia and the most common name in the Mafia is Tony (mine is the feminine form) 😂

  30. Even worse: my first names are A B C, but I always use my roepnaam D. When I married, I decided to replace my last name from my birth name Z to my husbands name Y. So my passport now says I’m A B C Z, whereas most people only know me as D Y.

    At my first job interview many years ago, security didn’t want to grant me access to the building. At my current job at an international company, people know me as D Y Z. So far it didn’t give issues for me, but a Dutch colleague had to ask his (non-Dutch) office manager to order new plane tickets for him, because she used his roepnaam.

  31. I’m in the USA and my roepnaam is Lieneke but legal name is Engelina ( of course spelled with an E instead of A to make it even more complicated). Always a long tale to tell when asked about it. Only person who ever called me by my legal name was the dentist. Of course Lieneke is both hard to pronounce ( lee na ka) but doesn’t spell like it sounds. I’m Lena when I order pizza though.


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