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Chapter 5

The Origin of Names, and of the Vogelzang Name.

If to day, one visited a small town and were looking for someone whose name one did not necessarily knew, but knew some circumstantial information about him, in referring to that person one would say something like: ”Do you know John the baker?”; or “Do you know John who lives in the house with the sailboat sign in front of it?”; or, Do you know John the son of Peter?”.

When names were not formally assigned, people used the same system. They gave names to person on the basis of:

  • 1. Occupation; e.g. Smith, Baker, Mason, Cooper, Barber, Dean, Presser, Miller, Adelman (nobleman), Fisher, Stewart, etc.
  • 2. Being the offspring of a certain person; e.g. the son of John, Johnson, Peterson, Adamson, Anderson, Thomson, Simonson, etc.
  • 3. Another way of referring to a person’s relationship was to add “ ‘s “ to the name indicating the possessive tense; e.g. Reynolds- belonging to Reynold, Rodgers- belonging to Rodger’ ’, Adams, etc.
  • 4. To mark a specific house of place of business it was common to have a sign hung from one’s place, or a gable stone. It thus became a means of identifying the place and set it apart from the other buildings. E.g. the house where the butcher lived may have had a sign with a lamb hanging over the door. Hence the butcher could have been called “John of the lamb”, shortened as “John Lamb”; if the sign was that of a bird, he would be John Bird, etc.
  • 5. One’s place of origin could have been the identifier of a person. E.g. if the chap came from Holland, he may have been referred to as “John the Hollander” shortened to “John Holland” or if he was from England to “John England”; or if he came from Kingston he was “John Kingston”
  • 6. Another way was if a person lived near a landmark he be named after it E.g. if he lived near the church he could be called “John Kirk”, or Kirkham- “ham” being a derivative of the French “home”-man.
  • 7. He could be named after a character quality. E.g. Bonham-Bonhomme in French- “bon” being “good”, “ham” being “man”- a good man.; or Goodfriend’, etc.

The possibilities are endless and essentially were based on what set that person apart from others. In the old days no formal registry of births, marriages or deaths existed, unless one belonged to an important family, such as nobility or royalty. As the churches became more established, they would keep record of this information – usually baptisms rather then births as baptism was more closely identified with the church. The information they would record would be that on a given day an e.g. male child having so and so as father and so and so as mother was baptized in the presence of certain witnessed and he was given the name of whatever. Sometimes it may also state where the parents lived and what their status in life was. Similar type of information was recorded in the death registers and marriage registers.

However, the exact spelling of the person’s name could vary. Formal dictionaries often did not exist and much depended on how well the priest and minister, or the parents, were educated. Most common people could not read or write. Hence when they presented themselves before the authority the stated their name and he would write the information down based on how it sounded rather than any exact spelling.

The system of using names in Holland and Friesland was no different. In addition Friesland had some peculiarities in name giving based on name endings. The most common endings are:
“ ‘s” being the possessive ending. Girls were often endearingly called “Popke”- little doll. Hence the surname “Popkes” It was also often based on one’s first name e.g “Foppe”- hence “Foppes”
n”, or “ns” again indicating the possessive or using the name Popke again it could become “Popken” or “Popkens”
ma” which indicated where one was from or whose offspring one was. E.g. if one came from the town of “Dokkum” one could be called “Dokkema”, or if one’s father was Adam, his son could be called “Adama” In the case of the Vogelzangs the name “Wierdsma” is common as being married in the family. It means the son of Weird- the latter being a first name.

So one sees name like Boukema, Jelsma etc. – Bouke and Jelle being common first names.
ga” or “inga” People with the latter ending are of oldest Frisian descent. It means “belonging to” or “related to” the person named in the name before. Similar ending appear in Old English or Frankish. E.g Witting in Old English is “the son of Witt”; or Carolingi (Charlemagne and descendents) Frisian names are Abbinga, Dekkinga. Elsinga, Tamminga,Huizinga, etc.
“stra” This ending means “originating from somewhere” e.g. Dykstra- from the dike; Beekstra- from the stream; Boonstra; Balkstra; Westra; etc.

In the case of the Vogelzangs, the common practice of naming boys after the fathers and grandfathers or uncles, and girls after the grandmothers, mothers and aunts, was often followed. There was a system in this, in that the oldest son was normally named after the grandfather, or the oldest daughter after the grandmother on father’s side; the second son/daughter after the grandfather/grandmother on mother’s side; the other children usually after the aunts and uncles who acted as witnesses at the baptisms of the baby. This system is called “patrimony” and in studying genealogy is a useful tool in tracking relationships, in particular if no formal last name exists.

As a result of this system, Jan who was the oldest son of Harmen, who in turn was the oldest son of Jan, would be referred to as “Jan Harmen of Harmen Jans” The latter son John being “Harmen’s John”. It could get quite a mouthful, but the system worked. It is obvious, however, that in a village several “Jans” of different families could live. Hence unless one could clarify the name a bit more, confusion would reign. In the Vogelzang family were at one time two “Jans”. One was a fisherman and of great strength and stature. Hence when referring to him they would call him “greate Jehonnus”, or “big Jan”

Following the French revolution, Napoleon became Emperor of France. He put an end to the chaos the French revolution had created. He also conquered most of Western Europe, including the Netherlands. Like Charlemagne in his days, Napoleon was a man of order. In 1799 a law was passed by him to complete the work begun by the French king Louis XVI to standardize measurements, temperatures and weights. He also codified laws, and formalized civil registration of births, deaths and marriages- getting away from the haphazard and somewhat informal church system.

Prior to Napoleon, a foot could be anything, based on one’s shoe size; a length of cloth was an “ell”- the measurement of an outstretched arm. Obviously depending on one’s size, or how far one stretched out one’s arm when measuring, the “ell” could be any length. It thus was open to all kind of abuse. Miles would vary between nautical miles, German miles, Roman miles etc. Some systems were based on multiples of 12, others on multiples of 20, etc. To end the mess, he introduced the metric system or decimal system. A “meter” was the common starting point of measurement. It consisted of 1/40,000,000th of the polar circumference of the Earth. A liter was the volume of one cubic decimeter. A liter of water was also deemed to be the weight of one kilo. Zero degree was the freezing point of water. It was a simple system where fractions of these measurements merely meant adjusting the decimal point and it was not open to manipulation, but provided standardization, as illustrated by the following table:

In August, 1811 a law was passed throughout the Napoleonic Empire whereby everyone had to pick a surname, and register it at the nearest administrative office, by the end of the year. Some people thought that to pick a name was a big joke. They did not expect that the French would stay too long as occupiers, and once they left everything would be back to where it was prior to the French occupation. Hence they picked silly names like “Naaktgeboren”- meaning “born naked”; or “Komtebedde”- meaning “come to bed”. Guess what happened though. Once the French left, things did not revert to the state prior to the French occupation and the silly names stick to this day. Another fairly common name is “Posthumus”.

It indicates that the child was born after the death of the father; i.e. it was conceived while the father was alive. However, while the mother was carrying the baby the father died and thus he was not alive when the baby was born.
Friesland at that time was divided in “departments”, which in turn were divided into “kantons”. The Vogelzang family lived in the department of Sneek which was made up of the kantons of Bolsward, Hindelopen, Lemmer, Rauwerd and Sneek. As we will see from the genealogy, the ancestor at the time was “Melchert” No surname existed for his family. He had six sons. Five of them chose the name “Vogelzang” and one, the oldest,. the name “Melchers”. The latter was understandable as the name merely meant “the son of Melchert”.

Document registering Kornelis Jans chosen name as “Melcherts”

Voor ons Adjunct Maire der Gemeente van Koudum Canton Hindelopen Arrondissement Sneek Department Vriesland compareered zijnde Kornelis Jans wonende te Hemelum heeft de zelve verklaard dat aanneemt de naam van Melcher voor famillie naam. Dat hij heeft het volgende getac zonen en Dochters te weten Jan oud 16 jaren, Klaas oud 13 jaren, Janke oud 10 jaren Durk oud 8 jaren Witze oud 20 jaren Grietje oud 14 jaren all wonened te Hemelum and heeft dezende …. Getekend den 16 Januarij 1812
C J Melchert Folke Wouters

Before us deputy Mayor of the municipality of Koudum, canton Hindelopen. district Sneek Department Vriesland have appeared Kornelis Jans living in Hemelum. He himself declared to adopt the name of Melcher as family name.That he had the following sons and daughters namely Jan old 16 years, Klaas old 13 years, Janke old 10 yers, Durk old 8 years, Witze old 20 years Greitje old 14 year all living at Hemelum and has signed this …
The 16th of January 1812.
Signed C J Melchert and Folke Wouters

Most of the Vogelzangs were fishermen on the Zuiderzee, and small farmers. They usually combined both activities, i.e. they fished as well as farmed at the same time. They tend to be strong bodied people as well as people of strong character; tough on themselves yet kind hearted; people of integrity; respecting authority but not necessarily intimidated by it; fiercely independent; loyal.(see Introduction)

The area in which the Vogelzang family lived is “Gaasterland”. The ground there is somewhat higher than the surrounding land and is made up of small hills, deposited during the ice age. It has rustling forests. The area is situated on the migration routes of many birds. Because the land was higher, it is some of the oldest inhabited land in Friesland. “Gaesten” were hilly sandy deposits dating back from the ice-age. Hence the meaning is “Land of the Gaesten” – land of the hills-and reflects the nature of the region.

Gaest at Oude Wirdum around 1910 prior to its “landscaping”/grading.

The area was heavily wooded. and its forests had many song birds. Hence, our ancestors when having to choose a name picked “Vogelzang”- bird song- reflecting the characteristic of their neighbourhood. Many of the Vogelzangs have good singing voices. This also may have influenced the selection of the name. The name “Vogelzang” is relatively rare in the Netherlands. To the best of the author’s knowledge three unrelated family groups by this name exist: The Frisian family- ours; one family originating in The Hague, and one from Groningen.

There is every indication that the Frisian Vogelzang family, are just that- Frisian. As far as it can be traced, they always lived in Friesland and thus were more than likely exposed to the history of Friesland described in the previous chapters.

Gaest being graded.

Gaest near Oude Mirdum as it looks to day with its “improvements”

  • References:
    www.fehmarn-genealogy.com/culture_of_the_frisians.htm
    www.holland.com/goudencirkel/gb/discoveer/cities/friesland/gaster.html
    www.answers.com/topic/english-unit
    www.du.edu/-jcalvert/tech/oldleng.htm
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/metric_system
    www.dirk-advies.com/prod01.htm