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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

Why Many Dutch Surnames Look So Archaic: The Exceptional Orthographic Position of Names

L Brouwer
Meertens Instituut, Netherlands

In the 19th century, several scholars in the Netherlands worked on a standardization of spelling of words. Only just after World War II, a uniformized spelling was codified. Nobody, however, seemed to care about, or even to think of, an adaptation of the spelling of surnames. In the first decades of the 19th century, due to Napoleon’s enforcement of implementing his Civil Code, all inhabitants were registered with a surname, which from then on never formally changed. This means that the final stage of surname development took place in a period, which may be considered as orthographically unstable. For this reason, many names still have many variations nowadays. This often leads to insecurity about the spelling of names. Even someone with an uncomplicated name such as Brouwer will often be asked, if his name is written with -au- or with -ou-, although this name is identical with the word ‘brouwer’ (= brewer) and 29,000 individuals bear the name Brouwer with -ou-, while only 40 people bear the name De Brauwer (Brauwer without an article doesn’t even exist).
But we easily accept this kind of inconvenience, because people do not expect names to be treated as words. A surname has a special meaning, particularly when it shows an antique radiance.

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