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Some Surnames of Old Ulster
(from Olde Ulster magazine
Vol II - July 1906 - pages 212-217)

Contributed by John Bodine Thompson, D.D.

     Proper names were primarily derived from some idiosyncrasy of the person named. The most obvious peculiarity at first would naturally be that of color. " Adam " was so called from the ruddy glow of the first man, like that of the clay from which he was formed. When, for greater precision, a second name was also used, the old became, in some instances at least, the surname. Thus we have " Adam " still, not only as a " given " name, but also as a family name; in the varied forms Adam, Adams, Addams, &c.

     In some instances, however, the most striking characteristic would be, not the color, but the size, or perhaps some mental or moral characteristic. To some such peculiarity we may confidently ascribe the origin of such names as Small, Large, Little, Bigg, Biggs, Quick, Bright, Good, &c.

     Often, however, it would be easiest and best to designate an individual by the name of his occupation. Hence, the names Smith, Carpenter, Hunter, Fisher, Constable, Reeve, &c.

     It was the custom among the Hebrews to bestow upon their children names which bespoke for them the favor of the God they worshipped. Thus, Johanan was a name contracted from the phrase Jehovah hanan, "Jehovah is gracious." In Latin it took the form Jokannes ...and in this form also it passed into Dutch. The Dutch often contracted it still further into Hannes, Hans, or Jan (English, "John ").

     The Hebrew usage became also the usage of the Christian church, and the new name (indicative of the new nature) given at baptism came thus to be called the "Christian name. "

     In the course of time, as the members of the community increased in numbers, many of them would be found bearing the same name. In such case, for the sake of distinction, some more definite designation would be found necessary. A natural and easy way of making this distinction would be to mention also the father of the individual spoken of. Thus, "Peter "would be described as the "son of John," and from this the way was easy to "Peter, John's Son" and "Peter

     Johnson." In the same way "John, the son of Peter ," would come to be known as "John Peterson." This is, in fact, precisely what did occur in New Netherland among the immigrants from the fatherland, (though the spelling was not precisely what it is in English). Such patronymics as "Jansen," " Pietersen," and others similar became so common that even this device failed as a method of distinguishing people from others bearing the same name. There were too many "Peter Jansens" and "Jan Pietersens." Hence another device was adopted,-one which had been in use in England centuries before.

     The heroic personage known as "John of Gaunt " was so-called because he was born at Ghent, (which the English pronounced and spelled " Gaunt "). His brothers also, as was customary in those days, were surnamed, from the places in which they were born, " Lionel of Antwerp," " William of Hatfield," and " Edward of Woodstock " (though in the last case the more primitive method of designation prevailed and he was commonly known as " The Black Prince ").

     This old English and Dutch method of deriving the surname from the place of birth must be carefully distinguished from the occasional modern practice of adding to the usual name that of the present residence, (of which the most notable instance is that of " Charles Carroll of Carrollton ").

      The Dutch proposition " van " means of or from; and thus it comes to pass that so many names of families of Dutch origin in New York and New Jersey begin with " van." Such names thus indicate the native place of the man from whom the family name is derived.

      All these points are illustrated in the records of the Dutch church of New Amsterdam. In them we read that in that city a woman from Amsterdam, named Jannetje, was married March 12, 1659, to a Frenchman named Francois Lejere. The French word Legere means " little," , or " small." In this record it is written with a " j," instead of a " g," in order to preserve as nearly as possible the soft sound of the French " g," the Dutch , g " being always hard.

      I have explained above how the Dutch patronymics were formed by the addition of the syllable " sen," meaning " son." But I have not explained how irregular this formation often was, Sometimes the " s " at the beginning of the suffix was doubled, and in these cases a tail to it makes it indistinguishable from the letter " z," Sometimes, the final " n " was omitted, however.

     The patronymic for daughters was formed regularly by adding to the father's name the letter " s," but often this was omitted and the daughter's surname was precisely that of the Father's " given." or " Christian " name.

     Jannetje, the daughter of Francois Legere is known simply as " Jannetje Francois." She married a man named Jan who was the son of a man bearing the same name. His name therefore is recorded, at the baptism of his first child, as " Jan Janszen." He had been born at Harlingen in Friesland, however, and at the record of the baptism of his second child he is more definitely designated as " Jan Janszen van Harlingen."

     The recorder was probably the Voorleser (reader, precentor, and clerk) of the church. He, too, had been born in Harlingen; but his father's name was Martyn ; and his name, therefore was Jan Martynsen Van Harlingen. He and his descendants retained Van Harlingen as their family name. One of his sons was the famous Dutch Domine, John M. Van Harlingen.

     Jan Janszen Van Harlingen might well have retained this name, also, if he had chosen so to do. But he did not so choose, perhaps for the very purpose of preventing confusion.

     His business, it is said, was to carry the mail from post to post, from station to station established for that purpose. Hence people who did not know him personally-and ultimately those who did-fell into the habit of designating him by the name of his office as "Postmael; " and this designation he seems to have accepted without the slightest demur.

     After the birth of his second child, "Jan Janszen Postmael " removed from Harlem to Kingston; and in the records of baptisms of his other children his name is thus recorded, except that the last two letters of the syllable "mael " are omitted! He is known in the Kingston church records as "Jan Janszen Postma ! "

     The recorder at Kingston spells his wife's family name, "Legier " and "Lezier," doubtless in the effort of the Dutchman to write the French word phonetically.

     A few words may be added respecting their children. Their sons all, sooner or later, took the name of Post. JAN POST, the first child, was born at Harlem and baptized in New York, March 27, 1680,-and was less than five years of age when his parents removed to Kingston. He was known simply as Jan (John ) Post. He married, March 29, 1702, Cornelia Martinsen Isselstyn, who was born in Claverack; but both of them were living in Kingston, where they had been witnesses, March 3, 1700, at baptism of Helena, daughter of Jannetje Legier and Thomas Ennis. Their daughter, Antje, was baptized at Kingston, March 7, 1703. His descendants settled in Kingston and the region roundabout.

     ABRAHAM, the second child of J an J anszen Postmael, was also born in Harlem and was baptized in New York, March 3, 1682. He returned from Kingston to Harlem before he was twenty years of age, and then called himself, in 1701, Abraham Postmael, since his father was best known there by that surname. In 1709, however, he was commonly known as Abraham Post, and the Post family of Westchester County is descended from him. His children were John, Abraham, Hendrick, Elizabeth, and Lena. Some of their descendants are among the claimants under the recently expired lease from the early settlers, and their names are in " The New Harlem Register," recently published at $100 for the volume. At a later day Abraham Post returned to Kingston where he married his second wife, Annetje Schoonmaker, both of them being at that time residents of Kingston.

     The third child of Jan Janszen Postmael was ANNACATRYN, baptized at Kingston, April 6, 1684. She married Jan Peersen, a name still common in all that region in the forms of Persen, Pearson, Person, Peers, and (vernacularly) Pers.

     ELSJE, the fourth child, it is said, was born in 1686.

     ANTHONI was baptized at Kingston, September 9, 1688. He is the " good angel " of a tradition which I hope to narrate in a future issue of OLDE ULSTER. The authority for the preceding statements may be found in the records mentioned and in " Riker's Harlem," revised edition, pages 388, 389. In this book, however, the family name of Jan Janszen Postmael's wife is spelled La Sueur, doubtless a writing from dictation. But I also wrote it at first from dictation, and spelled it without hestitation, Legere, having perhaps a more intelligent informant. At all events the records (as above stated) show this to be the correct spelling.  

(from Olde Ulster magazine
Vol III - September 1907 - pages 262-265)

     HASBROUCK.- Among the families of Ulster county there is none stronger or more widely distributed than the old Huguenot family of Hasbrouck. There were two brothers, Abraham and Jean. The former reached the Esopus in July, 1675, and the latter seems to have been here in 1672. They were natives of Calais, France. The family seems to have been French Flemings. The language of this region was almost the same as that of the Netherlands, the Dutch. The name

     Hasbrouck is not of French origin. It is unmistakably Dutch. Haas is the Dutch word for hare and broek for marsh or swamp. The Dutch method or compounding would be to write the word hare-swamp hazenbroek. This would mean a marsh abounding in hares. About sixty miles from Calais, and some twenty miles from the border of Belgium, is the present town of Hazebrouck in France. It is the capital of an arrondissement in the Department of Nord and is thirty-two miles West North West of Lille. It is largely engaged in tanning and the manufacture of oil and soap. It had a population in 1901 of 9,194. In the Netherlands are no less than four localities of the same name, one is Groot Hasebroek, under the jurisdiction of the village of Wassenaar in South Holland ; another Hazebroek, thirty minutes southwest of Wassenaar; a third Hazebroek, forty-five minutes southeast of Borculo in Gelderland and the fourth Hazenbroek, thirty minutes northwest of the Hague, in South Holland.

     TEN BROECK (TEN BROEK).- The literal meaning of this name is " Near the marsh." The deltas of the Rhine and the Scheldt were so full of swamps before the wonderful engineering skill of the Netherlands drained them that the name easily came to be applied to those who lived among the marshes.

     KORTRIGHT (KORTRECHT).- There is a proverb still current in the Netherlands which is Kort recht, gued recht (prompt justice, satisfactory justice). The name probably arose with some ancestor of the family who was a magistrate and administered justice in a prompt and satisfactory manner.

     BEEKMAN.- The English of this name is brook-man. The ancestor lived beside a brook.

     VAN VLIET.- Of the brook. The name is of the same origin as Beekman.

     OVERBAGH.- This name came into Ulster county through the Palatine family of that name. It is the German of the Rhineland. It means " over the brook."

     DE WITT.- The white.

     BLEECKER (BLEEKER).- The bleacher. The Netherlands had a world-wide reputation centuries ago for bleaching. Everyone knows how their linen of the purest white was known as " hollands." There is a strong impression that both of the above names, De Witt and Bleecker, were given to families who made a reputation in producing this linen. The English name of Dwight is that of a family of De Witts driven from the Netherlands by the terrible Spanish persecution. They settled in an eastern county of England where they were noted for producing fine white linen. The English contracted their name after the English fashion.

     STRYKER (STRIJKER).- Ironer. Closely related to the bleachers in producing the much prized fine Hollands were the skillful ironers. Hence the origin of the name. It has been held that the name means " peacemaker." If so, it is because an ironer is a smoother of differences.

     VAN DER VEER.- Of the ferry.

     TELLER.- An accountant.

     VOORHEES.- Originally Van Voorhees, meaning " from before Hees," a village in the province of Drenthe, whence the family came.

     WYNKOOP (WIJNKOOPMAN).- Wine merchant.

     VAN NOSTRAND (VAN OOST STRAND).- From the east strand. The east beach.

     OSTRANDER.- The meaning is the same as the last.

     TEN EYCK.- Near the oak.

     TEN HOUT.- Near the wood.

     TEN HAGEN (TEN HAAGEN).- Near the hedge.

     VAN DER VOORT (VAN DER VOERT).- From the cove or creek.

     MEYER (MEIER).- Sheriff, mayor, superintendent.

     VAN LEUVEN.- Of the lion. From Leeuwen, a village near Tiel, province of Gelderland.

     TER WILLIGER.- Near the willow tree.


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