Thursday, January 28, 2016

What's in a Name?

What's in a name? Heck, what was the name?

This is the story of my Dutch grandmother's name. I really never knew her -- our lives overlapped by only about 18 months. I guess I must have heard my Dad and my uncles and aunts talk about her. I'm not certain, but I think they called her Kate --- when they didn't call her Ma.

She was known as Kate when shed died in 1951. Her obituary in the Sioux County Capital named her Kate. She is Kate on her gravestone. My Dad had entered her name as Kate Zorgdrager in some primitive home-made family group sheets he created on his pre-electric, heavy as an anvil, manual typewriter. In the early 1990s, when I started researching her ancestry, I did not have access to the 1930 or 1940 censuses, but both the 1910 and 1920 censuses recorded her as Kate. She was Kate in the registration of her 1903 marriage to Jan (aka John) Fonkert. She has eluded my searches in the 1900 census; she was not living with her parents in Holland Township.

Jan Fonkert and Kate Zorgdrager, 1903
From the marriage record, I knew that her parents were Sipke Zorgdrager and Trijntje de Vries. Censuses told me that Kate was born about 1883 or 1884 in Iowa.  I wish I could accurately remember the chain of events behind the story I am about to tell. Suffice it to say, it took me several years to fully understand why this beautiful Dutch girl was known as Kate.

At some point (back in the microfilm days, as I recall), I found the Zorgdrager family in the 1885 Iowa census of Sioux County. Sipke Zorgdrager had a 1-year old child named Tryntje. I had been expecting Kate. Sipke's wife was also named Trynte, I was  mostly convinced that Kate and  1-year old Trijntje were one and the same. However, I didn't see how Tryntje could have become Kate.

Even my Dad's birth certificate -- a "delayed" certificate issued in  1950 -- named his mother "Kate." Birth registrations for his sister, Nellie, and brother, Peter, also called their mother Kate.

Now comes the part I wish I could remember better. I had learned that that the Zorgdragers had come from Terschelling, a North Sea island just of the coast of Friesland, a northern province of The Netherlands. Using the WieWasWie index ( of Dutch civil registration records, I can sort of reconstruct how I figured this all out.  First, I found several young girls on Terschelling named Catharina. Even more interesting, I found the K-version of the name fairly common on the mainland: Katharina, Katrijn, Katrijne. On Terschelling, I found many young girls named Trijntje.

If I had only had at hand a copy of Christine Rose's Nicknames Past and Present I could have just looked it up. In an appendix of Dutch and Frisian names, she states that Katrijn is the Dutch equivalent of Catherine and that the English names Kate or Kathleen derive from Katryntje.

It dawned on me that "Tryjn" was a shortened version of Kathrijn or Katharina. The, their was the matter of the "je" at the end of the name. At some point, I learned that the suffix "je" is a diminutive applied to female names, literally meaning small, but in the case of names indicating affection.

When I was struggling with these names 20 years ago, the Internet was in its infancy. Now, you can find numerous articles, and even a few videos about the "je" suffix. The first one I clicked on hit the spot. Try

So, was Tryntje a casual version of something like Trynt? Not quite. It turns out that Tryntje was a shortened version of  Kathryntje. Yep, Tryntje was derived from Katherina, and of course, in America Tryntje was anglicized to Kate.

 Only when I found my great-grandfather's will did I see an official record calling her Tryntje. Sipke Zorgdrager willed a portion of his estate to Tryntje Fonkert, and when she gave a receipt for $20 from the estate, she signed her name "Tryntje Fonkert." Kate's given name was Tryntje.

So, what's in a name? Would you care to guess about Zorgdrager? I will dig deeper into the Zorgdragers next week.

A final note on spelling -- The "y" in Tryntje is not really the letter "y." Instead, it is the Dutch letter ÿ, representing a "long i." Today, it is commonly typed as "ij." So, you might see either either Tryntje or Trijntje instead of Trÿntje. You can type "ÿ" by holding down the alt-key while typing 0255.

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