Saturday, January 26, 2008

Reference Phone Call

What does the name Zondervan mean?

I initially found out that Zondervan is the name of a publisher of Christian books. However, that's not the information the customer wanted. She wanted the etymology of the name. So, Frank helped me with this one.

Frank initially thought the name was Dutch. We confirmed this by finding another site with the name Zondervan with a windmill. Then we looked up the words Zonder and Van in our Dutch-English dictionary. We found that Zonder means without. Van had several meanings. Then we found this website: and learned that

"In the Netherlands, these spelling variations continued until the time the occupying French started the civil registry of surnames in 1811. During their seven year occupation, the French established a census for tax collection purposes. At the time, only nobles had surnames. Commoners, like the Bustraans, had names such as "Maljaert the Woodcutter". The census required everyone to be called to the stadhuis and pick a surname. Surnames for commoners--what a silly idea! Oftentimes names were just made up (den Beste: the Best, de Jonge: the Younger, or Zondervan: without a "name"). Whatever the name chosen, it and its spelling, stuck."

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