What's in a name: the Vandenberg family name

Vandenberg is a very common American surname with Dutch roots. Several prominent Americans carry this surname, such as: Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg (republican senator from Michigan), Kim Vandenberg (swimmer), Hoyt Vandenberg (second Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force), there even is a rock band called Vandenberg. However, though many of you may recognize the name, I bet few of you know what it actually means.

In Dutch, the name Vandenberg is actually written Van den Berg, "van" and "den" being separate particles that come before the actual name "berg". It is also pronounced very differently, as you can hear here.

Literally, Van den Berg translates as "from the mountain". The name is what we call a toponymic, that is, a name that refers to a certain landmark close to where somebody lived. Toponymics are a very common type of Dutch surname: Van der Veer (of the ferry), Vermeer (of the lake), Verhoek (from the corner), Verhoef (from the farmstead) are just a few examples. Note that whenever a name starts with "van", "ver" or "van der" (which are all variants of each other, meaning "from",  "of" or "of the"), you are probably looking at a toponymic surname.

Of course, one may wonder how on earth any Dutchman could end up with a name meaning "of the mountain" in a country as flat as the Netherlands. Most of the country lies below sea level and the highest elevation in it is the Vaalsberg in Limburg which is 322 meters high (1056 feet). You can hardly call that a mountain. Nevertheless, the Dutch do. Moreover, they are inclined to call any elevation that catches the eye a mountain. To illustrate this: there is a small elevation of 12 meters (39 feet) in Friesland that is called the Hogeberg, which translates as "the high mountain".

It is clear that in a country as flat as the Netherlands any minor elevation stands out. This could explain the popularity of the Van den Berg name. Today, there are about 60,000 people carrying the name in the Netherlands making it one of the most common names. Of course these people are not all related, many families took on the name independently from each other because they happened to live close to an elevation of some sort.

Would you like to read more about Dutch surnames? Read our in-depth article on Dutch surnames: Making Sense Of Your Dutch Surname.