Belgian Names: Beyond Flemish and French

Belgian native and guest blogger Sarah B. unscrambles the pieces of the complicated jigsaw puzzle that is the diverse naming structure of her native land by analyzing its Most Popular list of 2010.

Belgium is a small country with a mere 10 million inhabitants. Yet it sits right in the heart of Western Europe (the capital, Brussels, is often called the ‘capital of Europe’), and so is subject to more varied cultural influences than perhaps any other European country. One result of this is that Belgium has no less than three official languages: Dutch, spoken in the northern part of the country called Flanders (this variety is called Flemish– the differences between Dutch and Flemish are comparable to the differences between British and American English); French, spoken in the southern part of the country, called Wallonia; and German, spoken in a small part of Wallonia bordering Germany.

These three languages cause important differences when it comes to naming our babies, and this is why separate statistics are kept for the three parts of the country. Some names are popular in the whole of Belgium, but these names will usually be popular in all of Europe and even beyond (Emma is an example).

Being Flemish, I will limit myself to the names popular in Flanders. Here is the Flemish Top 10 for 2010 so far–( names given in Flanders only, regardless of their origin):




These Top 10 names popular in Flanders can be further divided into five different categories: International, Dutch, French, Flemish and a smaller group  of English names,  clearly showing Flanders’ central position in Europe, and the varied cultural influences involved.

The international names frequently have Latin or biblical origins, and nearly all are also popular in England and the U.S., as well as the countries surrounding Belgium.
The following names are all drawn from Flanders 2010 Top 100:
Boys: Adam, Alexander, David, Felix, Lucas, Noah, Sam, Simon, Thomas
Girls: Anna, Ella, Emma, Hannah, Laura, Lena, Nina, Nora, Olivia, Sarah, Zoe
Many of these names have been popular for a long time; most parents choosing a name like this want their child to have a classic name that will never go out of style.

There is also a significant group of names with Dutch roots, or other names popular in the Netherlands that used to be virtually unknown here, but are now slowly gaining popularity in Flanders too.

The following are all in the Flemish Top 100 today (whereas they might be in the Top 20 in the Netherlands):
Boys: Bas, Bram, Daan, Lars, Levi, Ruben, Sem
Girls: Anouk, Dieuwke, Floor, Maud, Merel, Mirthe, Renske, Roos, Sterre

The next big group consists of French names (some of them are also common in English-speaking countries, but included because they are pronounced as in France).

These are the French names in the Top 100 today:
Boys: Arthur, Emile, Gilles, Jules, Leon, Louis, Mathis, Maxime, Nathan, Nicolas, Victor
Girls: Alice, Aline, Amelie, Anaïs, Axelle, Camille, Charlotte, Elise, Fleur, Julie, Juliette, Manon, Margaux, Marie, Laure, Louise, Pauline, Renee

Parents choosing a name from this category generally wish to convey an image of class, wealth and culture, and are typical for upper-middle and upper-class families. Some, however, have recently become so popular that this association is now largely lost.

As you can see, French names seem to be more popular for girls than for boys. It’s interesting to note, however, that parents are more prone to change the spelling of the boys’ names than the girls’. For the boys, there are no less than eight ‘Flemish’ spellings in the Top 100 (Emiel, Juul, Lowie, Maxim, Miel, Thibo, Tibo, Viktor), compared to only two for the girls (Margot, Paulien).

These spellings are closer to the actual pronunciation of the names, which is why some parents choose a Flemish spelling. Another reason is the specific wish of some parents to not give their kids an ‘elitist’ French name, while still liking the sound.

This brings us to the ‘real’ Flemish names, not all of them exclusively used in Flanders, but definitely more popular here than anywhere else. These are all in the Top 100:
Boys: Kobe, Mats, Nand, Robbe, Rune, Senne, Seppe, Siebe, Stan, Tuur, Wannes, Warre, Wout.
Girls: Bo, Elien, Febe, Fien, Fran, Hanne, Hannelore, Janne, Jolien, Kaat, Kato, Lien, Lieze, Lore, Noor

In case you were wondering, here are some pronunciation basics for Flemish names):
-there are no silent letters, all final e’s are pronounced (sounding like the u in bus).
-consonants: -final d is always pronounced as a t
j is always pronounced as y
-vowels: -both o and oo are pronounced like oa, as in boat
ie is pronounced as ee, as in sleep
e is pronounced as e in dress in closed syllables, as a in face in open syllables

Last but not least, I want to mention the notable presence of a couple of distinctively English or Irish names in the Flemish Top 100:
Boys: Liam, Vince, Finn, Jayden, Jack, Dylan
Girls: Lily, Hailey, Emily, Amy, Jill

Why?  I think Belgian baby namers choose English names to be cool and trendy.

Sarah is a student at the University of Gent in Belgium, majoring in English and Italian.  A dedicated name nerd, she posts daily on a Dutch naming site.

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11 Responses to “Belgian Names: Beyond Flemish and French”

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Brittany Says:

December 28th, 2010 at 2:12 am

Fascinating list – thanks! I am shocked about Marie! A name that is *the* standard middle name (and a tad boring, at that) it’s really intriguing that this name is so high in Belgium. I had never considered it for a first name!

Blair Says:

December 28th, 2010 at 9:10 am

Thanks so much for the blog! I am second generation flemish here in the states. My grandfather spent most of his childhood in Antwerp and my great grandmother’s name was Cordula DeHollander. I never see much about the culture but have always wanted to find a way to honor my heritage in my future children’s names and this blog did just that, thanks!

babynamesrule Says:

December 28th, 2010 at 10:57 am

This was really interesting! I was in Belgium two years ago very briefly and would love to go back again just to hear these names.

Hannelore and Axelle are awesome names!

Sara (SaarA) Says:

December 28th, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Nice 🙂 Very interesting!

ssweeney Says:

December 28th, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Very cool blog! Sarah, I have a question about the name Anouk – how is it pronounced? Someone told me that it sounded like “Aneek” – is that correct? Thanks!

pam Says:

December 28th, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Sarah, I’d be interested in hearing your take on this, but I believe Anouk rhymes with book — at least in the U.S. Annik is a different name and that sounds like Aneek.

Sarah Says:

December 28th, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Yes, Anouk does more or less rhyme with book.. Although maybe it’s drown out a bit longer..

Sarah Says:

December 28th, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Oops, that should be drAwn, not drown..

Jennifer Says:

December 28th, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Great blog. I’m Belgian…my grandparents were from Antwerp and you rarely hear about the Belgian culture here in the US. Question for you…. How would you pronounce the surname Bollaert? Our family pronounces it about 3 different ways. Just wondering what the correct pronounciation is. My great-grandfather was Franz and my great-grandmother was Georgina.

sadiesadie Says:

December 29th, 2010 at 1:55 am

I love Belgium! I have been once but would love to go again!
I like
Lore, Lars, Mathis, Anouk, Mats and Rune.
great post Sarah!

Sarah Says:

December 30th, 2010 at 4:13 am

@Jennifer: hard to explain how to pronounce Bollaert.. The difficult part is the ae-part, the rest I would say is pretty much the same as you would say it in English. The ae-part sounds like the letter I without the y-sound that comes at the end.. And then longer.. Hope this makes any sense!

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