The Mayor’s post of the central Dutch municipality of Putten has been vacant since September 1, 2010, when a Mr. Berend Jan van Putten took early retirement. You are reading this right, Mayor Van Putten of the Municipality of Putten.
No doubt, many people in the vicinity of Putten must have wondered at one time or other if Mayor Van Putten’s ancestors actually were named after the town of Putten. Is such a connection possible? Would it not be ‘cute’ to be named after the town of which you are the leading official?
The purpose of this post is not to explore Mayor Van Putten’s genealogical data however but the origin of his surname and of others named Van der Putten, Van Put and Put.
Dutch speakers know that the singular of putten is put, another surname, one mostly occurring without the prefix Van. When hearing the noun putten or put today, thoughts quickly turn to a well or a sunken tank to collect runoff water, such as rain.
That the meaning of Putten or Put is not simply a well or sunken water tank should be obvious from the fact that there is, for example, a former South Holland island now called Voorne-Putten but some centuries ago, before the waterway between the islands of Voorne and Putten silted, was known as “Land van Put”.
There is a suggestion – check Meertens – that in earlier times the Dutch nouns ven, vijver, laak, poel, plas en put, in a broader sense, were interchangeble in their meaning. In the case of put it is best to think of a body of stale water which the ‘Land van Put’ may have had.
Pronunciation differences over the centuries and lack of spelling rules have given the Dutch place names that are remarkably close in spelling, think of Putten and the North Holland village of Petten.
If the meanings are so similar, we could call Putten related to Petten. It is amazing what one can dig up with a bit of study of old Dutch and its surprising number of dialects. It helps explain surnames and placenames.