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 ultimately worse? For example, take the ultra-Dutch phenomenon roepnaam.
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’s just the way it is.
Then why this article? The answer is quite simple: as soon as you cross the borders and move beyond the Netherlands, this system can raise some (or 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 this:
“Can you spell that for me again, please?”, “Sorry, I didn’t get that. Veronica?”, and “How do you spell that? Y-a-n-i-c-a?”
Dozens of times a day. Day in, day out. If only I were given another name when I was born… but, 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, as 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. Underneath, however, would be a phrase that read something like: “and we call her/him ….[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 what kind of mess this schizophrenic naming system could potentially get me in.
Who am I?
Let me ask you this: have you ever looked an Australian cop straight in the eyes after being accused of giving out a false name? In a car full of drunk friends? I have.
The cop asked me for my driver’s licence (still no issue) and asked me for my name.
“Janneke,” I said. “Can you please spell that for me, Miss?”
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.
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 ended 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 committed a crime by accident using a false name. And that you actually didn’t know it 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!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in December 2017, and was fully updated in July 2023 for your reading pleasure.