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this strange Dutch name van Rij explained  

Learn more on this van Rij family name  

Here we try to explain this strange name van Rij.
For the known spelling variations of this name see the list on the left.

What does it mean?

If it means anything at all!

Let's have a look.

The name consists of two terms

Despite of how you are using this name today, the original name consists of two terms; van and Rij.

The first term van is best translated with from in the sense "was previously living in".
Consequently the second term has to be a geographical indication.

Why were these geographical indications used?
Lets consider the example of two people named Peter living in a small village in the twelfth century .
The first one was a local lad and therefore everyone just called him Peter.
The second one was born in (lets say) the city of Delft.So, to avoid confusion with the first Peter, everyone called him Peter van Delft.

That's how these van names came about. There are a lot of them in the Netherlands (and Germany), because the distances were not that big and consequently there was a lot of migration going on.
These names gradually transformed into genuine family names.

So where did we previously live?

Hence the van name, we must have been previously living in Rij.

This term Rij only means row in modern Dutch. So, that is not much of a help.
And there is no place or district called Rij anywhere in the Netherlands or Flanders.
But it is believed that the term rij stems from riede
(If you like to read how this came about you can visit the history page)

Riede is an ancient (German) term for brook or creek.
In Dutch it was particularly used for marshland, covered with reeds (riede!!), boarding a river.
And those rivers were all over the place: some thousand years ago the Netherlands were real marshes.

There were two places with a name like Riede.

The first one is still around. Although the name changed into Ridderkerk after they built a kerk (=church) there.
The name literally means "the church of Riede".

The second one was situated some twenty five miles south east of the first one; east of the city of Dordrecht.
It was wiped out in an enormous flood in 1421. Never heard of since.

So that's where it probably all started.

How do I pronounce van Rij?

The easy way out is to pronounce the van term as in "delivery van" and the Rij term as in "rye bread"
In this manner everyone in the Netherlands should understand what (or whom) you are addressing.

But that's not the real thing!

The a in van should be pronounced as the a in hard.

a   (click to listen)

Furthermore the van term should be pronounced short. It's short and it's harsh.

van   (click to listen)

The pronunciation of the Rij term is a bit more complex, because

  • The van Rij's stem from the Rotterdam area. People from Rotterdam like their R's rollin.
  • the IJ sound is a typical Dutch sound.
Here you can hear the IJ sound separated from the rest.
IJ   (click to listen)
It may sound a bit weird to you but in Dutch it is a normal vowel.
It's the sound of the y in rye shifted a little to the a in back       [ℇi].
Rij   (click to listen)

When we put it all together it sounds like:

My name is van Rij. How do you do?   (click to listen)

More on the IJ vowel here

Do you want to know more about the family name, the pedigree, the family in general, or whatever :
contact the helpdesk.