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‘.
The Dutch think it’s normal, the rest of the world doesn’t…
Roepnamen – As Dutch as it gets
Not every expat living in the Netherlands will be familiar with the Dutch phenomenon ‘roepnamen’ (roughly translated ‘daily names’), but many, if not most, of your Dutch friends will have one. 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!). As you can imagine, the roepnaam became more and more popular as the amount of given Christian names grew. The roepnaam is usually derived from the Christians names one got by birth.
Who came up with this sh*t?
The world’s most famous Dutch person ever; one that everyone knows by her roepnaam only is: Anne Frank. Her name actually wasn’t Anne. Or at least, her official name wasn’t Anne. Her real name is Annelies Marie Frank. I bet you didn’t know that. Johan Cruijff is another one. His official name is Hendrik Johannes Cruijff. Shocking?! Not to the Dutch. Then why didn’t you know about this you ask? Simply put, it is a non-issue in our country. Most people that 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 doesn’t exist and can raise some (more like many) eyebrows.
My name is, and always has been, Janneke. It’s typically Dutch, hard to pronounce for non-Dutch speakers and thus, not the easiest name when you go 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! But I guess that very same day my parents decided to completely ignore my actual names and call me something else. 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.
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 ask 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 pair of eyes staring 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 Dutch person that happens to have very confused parents.
Want to learn more than just the ‘roepnamen‘?
We can’t blame ya! Basic Dutch issues as ‘roepnaam‘ aren’t enough to pick up the sometimes complex Dutch language. If you’re also not a fan of paying hefty fees for a classroom-learn-a-language approach you might want to get in on Flowently and their personal style of teaching Dutch.
Consider for example booking their Welcome Session, where you’ll get a private tour of a Dutch city and learn some Dutch along the way. They’ll also show you your new neighbourhood, work environment and other locations you’re interested in – so it’s a great way to get started with life and the language!
What do you make of this weird Dutch quirk? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature Image: Pixabay/Pexels
Editor’s note: this article was originally published in December 2017 and has been updated in July 2020 for your reading pleasure.