Why do so many Dutch people have the syllable kooi in their surname? What’s the story? Of course, North Americans are a long way removed from the roots of it all and may not be aware that the Dutch landscape is dotted with heritage sites, among them many with a kooi, known in local parlance as ‘de kooi.’

Reminders of these kooi locations are found everywhere in the Netherlands, including in the names of farms, roads, fields and, yes, surnames.

There are sayings in the Dutch language, that have their origin in the kooi culture; sayings, that are regularly heard but really have become disconnected from their roots because their history is not very obvious to most Dutch people now that the kooi culture has all but disappeared.

Nearly everyone will know someone with the syllable kooi in a surname but at best will have to guess at its meaning. It has been said that a surname is the archeological evidence of family roots.

There is little doubt that many people will have wondered at times about the meaning of Dutch surnames that incorporate the syllable “koo(i)(j)(y),” ending with one of these three letters or one that includes one of such spellings, in for example, Kooistra, Kooiker and other variations.

That there is an interest in this subject, is obvious from a decade-old attempt by a Dutch-American who compiled the meanings of a list of surnames that included Kooiman, of people found in his area. The list, which has been widely circulated, was very likely translated with the help of a Dutch-English dictionary, hence the simple translation of the surname Kooiman as “Man of the cage.”

Although kooi does translate to cage, the suggested meaning lacks context and is of little help in understanding the background of the surname.

Worse, some could even reach the conclusion that a Kooiman may have been a jailer or perhaps a prisoner, when a bit of research could easily have correctly pointed to an origin as a well-to-do duck catcher and a prosperous ‘de kooi’ operation.

The story of the kooiman involves a very interesting segment of Dutch social history. To read the rest of this well illustrated and lengthy article, which includes a list of places and surname variations using the syllable kooi subscribe to the Windmill Herald and order copies of the October 25, 2010 issue.

This article is the twelfth in a series. Previously, surname installments were published on the surname groups and their variations, that focused on the Dutch syllables/nouns Riet (70 variations), Dekker (30), Veer (60), Tol (70), Spijker (50), Schout (100), Horst (230), Graaf (200), Wiel (270), Slager (50), Koster (50) and Kooi (100), covering well over 1300 different surnames in all. Extra copies of all of the issues featuring the installments of this series are available for shipping.

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Is our name Dutch? The question has appeared many times in the email response box of our website GoDutch.com. A simple Yes or No would hardly satisfy the curiosity hidden below the surface of that question. Many of such inquiries should not be answered either with Yes or No because it may well obscure an extremely interesting story.

A surname, even if it is is a one-syllable noun is still, at least in my opinion, ‘archeological’ evidence of family roots even if no document can be found to verify it.

The ancestor likely did not pick his own surname. Others, neighbours, friends or detractors should shoulder that blame.

My interest in this subject stems from the many questions we have received over the years. The history of family can turn dry genealogical information into a very interesting history once the context of origin is researched.

In numerous cases, the surname can serve as the landmark in such an effort.

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