The origin of the surname Tanis has been a source of speculation for a long time. One of the Tanis family members discovered a hamlet in Normandy, France, named Tanis.

Others have suggested that the Tanis surname could refer to the Thames River Valley in Essex, England. In the Netherlands, the prime concentration of the Tanis clan can be found in the coastal village of Ouddorp, which is only a boat ride away from the Thames, they say.

Another tongue-in-cheek explanation places the Tanis origin in Egypt because it has a town named Tanis.

The village of Ouddorp is part of the municipality of Goedereede, which is home to 555 members of the 1,548 member Dutch Tanis clan. Include those residing in adjoining municipalities of the former island of Goeree-Overflakkee and the Tanis clan concentration reaches a subtotal of 668 members. (The clan saw many emigrate to the USA in the late 1800s, but that is another story.)

The earliest birth entries with the surname Tanis date from the mid 1550s, when three brothers named Tanis lived in Ouddorp, a village known for dependence on fishing. The other economic activity was agricultural, including growing madder, a root used for extracting dye for treating leather and textiles, including ropes and sails.

Ouddorp’s fishermen, like their contemporaries elsewhere, needed to protect their fishing gear from deterioration and treated the material by submerging it in a ‘taanketel’ (tanning drum) and boiling it in a ‘taanhuisje’ (tanning shed) although these fireplaces could also be in the open air.

Could the Dutch verb ‘tanen’ be relevant in the solution to the Tanis origin question?

Let us look elsewhere in the country. The Vollenhove, Overijssel local historical society periodical Kondschap of June 2010 featured an article titled, ‘Het tanen van scheepstextiel’ (The tanning of seafarer’s textile), which describes the process in detail although there is no direct reference to the madder culture because they used a certain kind of tree bark.

Is there a link with the tanner trade? The genealogical research available focuses too much on the bare data without detailing information on livelihood issues which tell so much more about ancestors.

Although I plan to keep looking for more references that may clarify the origin of the Tanis surname further and still more convincingly, I am not yet sold on the idea that the surname points to roots in England.

There are two noteworthty points about the Tanis tradition: for centuries there were no firm spelling rules but the this surname’s spelling stayed the course while many others in the area did not.

The other point, the given name Jacob, its female equivalent Jacoba  and minor variations such as Jaap and Jack are still being used after nearly 500 years.

As for “tanen”, Wikipedia has a brief article (in Dutch) with an illustration listed at

To read more about the Tanis and Ouddorp connection in North America, you may want to read:


  1. Thu 04th Aug 2011 at 12:03 am

    I have an unusual Dutch last name, Jobsis (with an umlaut over the o). The family seems to have learned it may originally have been German, much to the chagrin of us proud Dutch folk. Thank you for taking the time to blog about genealogy.

  2. piet Tanis
    Sun 29th Jan 2012 at 7:24 pm

    The Concise Scots Dictionary (1987 edition) defines TANIST as a term in Celtic law, meaning “the successor to a Celtic king or chief (of Ireland or scotland) elected during his predecessor’s lifetime from within certain degrees of kinship”.
    The origin of the word is a Gaelic word “tanaiste”, which translates as : “something secondary to another, or the next heir”.

    source: Project Administrator
    Scottish Archive Network
    Thomas Thomson House
    99 Bankhead Crossway North
    Edinburgh EH11 4DX
    tel. 0131 242 5800
    fax 0131 270 3317

    • albert  –  Mon 30th Jan 2012 at 8:06 pm

      When looking at the root of Tanis, I would consider similar sounding surnames. One of these is Kanis. I ran across an explanation of the background of a Nijmegen student, who called himself Canis in the 17th century. It is a latinized surname adapted from the Dutch noun Hond. This does not mean that the surname Kanis, found in the region around Apeldoorn and Kampen is necessarily connected to the Nijmegen case. There may well be a different scenario at play. Back to Tanis. It originated around 1550 when the Romish clergy and their assistants, the costers, still used Latin to update their church records. The Celtic era was much earlier, so I will be a sceptic as far as this solution is concerned.

  3. Bruce Tanis
    Fri 26th Apr 2013 at 12:03 am

    The Normandy connection might make some sense, since, s early as 1550 some French Hugonot refugees who had escaped the massacre of Vaudois (1545) and the Gestapo-like “Chambre ardente” which was set up in 1549 for the
    purpose of rooting out the Protestant heresy, entered England and Holland. The Huguenots were the Orangemen of France and were proud of it.They were staunch Protestants prepared to adhere to the truth though it cost them life itself, and many of them indeed sealed their testimony with their blood, dying a martyr’s death. It was mainly in Dauphiny, Normandy and Brittany that this movement had its chief support, and a large number of its adherents were members and cadets of the old aristocratic families of Nordic race, a good, solid and stolid stock. We also know that the Frisian language is closer to Old Norse than any other language, which makes sense, given the Nordic origins of Norman Hugonots. In fact, the word Norman means “Norseman”. Another main body followed almost a century later and from the middle of the seventeenth century, there was a constant exodus of the very best elements in France – the very flower of the nation, principally from Brittany and Normandy and other parts where the Celto-Nordic and Norse (Norman) elements predominated. The emigres were men of leaming and character and many were expert craftsmen who brought new industries to this land of ours and helped to make Britain great. There were ministers and pastors noblemen, solid merchants and industrious artisans and landed gentry well as husbandmen, gardeners and skilled agricultural workers. In a few months followed the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In 1685, fifty thousand families left the shores of France to make their homes in England, the Netherlands and Protestant Germany. Many settled in the East End of London where they set up silk manufactories and hat-making concerns. A goodly number found their way to our American colonies, particularly New Jersey and New York, and a body numbering approximately 200 was settled at the Cape of Good Hope by the States-General of the Netherlands, where it still forms an element in that population. In all, one million Hugonots left France for England, The Netherlands and Germany between the mid-1500s and the mid 1700s.

    • albert  –  Fri 26th Apr 2013 at 4:45 pm

      Thanks for the contribution. Regrettably, you focus far more on Huguenot history in general then specifically on the Tanis surname origin. You do not interact with any Tanis genealogical information to make your case. In fact, there is nothing in the Tanis naming tradition that points to French influences. This one has more validity, although I would want to see the documentation as proof: Jacob Jansz. Tanis, Born ca 1520 in the Thames River Valley, Sussex. Died Ouddorp ca 1570. Adriaan and Jacob are given names still current in my wife’s Tanis lineage. Her grandfather was a Jacob and her uncles were called Jacob (Jaap) and Adriaan.

      • sigrid odell  –  Wed 30th Oct 2013 at 2:51 pm

        What interesting geneology! My father was Jaap Tanis and he came to the UK in the ’60′s where I was born and continue to reside. Love the thought that the Tanis family may have originated from the Thames Valley in the 1500′s.

  4. albert
    Fri 26th Apr 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Quoted from my original post: “Could the Dutch verb ‘tanen’ be relevant in the solution to the Tanis origin question?” There is something I missed up to now, the surnames Tanis does have variants! What are these? Taan and Taen! In fact, Adriaan Tanis who moved from Ouddorp to Herkelingen is the ancestor of the Taan clan. Now the question is how did this variation originate? Is it connected to his work as a tanner, is it simply a contraction of the name or a misspelling that was never corrected? An error based on dialect prununciation? Or a combination of the above in a very simple 16th century isolated Dutch village society?


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