Dutch spelling

Spelling is the most significant area where the database's needs for regularity put pressure on historical accuracy. In addition, there are your needs for searching the contents of a database. As you'll see if you try to search the Delft property records at the Historisch GIS, it is very tedious to have to search for half a dozen variants for every person's name in each of the half a dozen likely sources. And what about the ones you don't imagine, such as Leeuwenhoek's father-in-law Elias de Meij, who sometimes spelled his first name Gillis?

The idea of one and only one correct way to spell a word was driven by the printing press. Among the first books printed were dictionaries, though it wasn't until around 1600 that Dutch-language dictionaries began appearing. The first Dutch-English lexicon, Hexham's, dates from 1648. Not until the early 1800's, driven by the Industrial and French revolutions, did the Dutch attempt to make spelling and gammar uniform.

Until then, spelling was not standardized. For example, on February 11, 1712 Leeuwenhoek and his daughter Maria made a will. At the end, they signed it (below right), Maria's signature below her father's -- and they spelled their family name differently. Maria added a c before the k at the end. Notary documents, such as this one, as well as baptism, marriage, and burial records, were recorded by clerks who wrote what they heard and seemingly made no attempt to ask "How do you spell that?" For a database, variant an unsystematic spelling is a problem.

The Huygens Institute's project on Circulation of Knowledge and Learned Practices in the 17th-century Dutch Republic is finding solutions to this problem in standards for spelling normalization.

Note also that the 17th century primary documents used for Lens on Leeuwenhoek capitalize some common nouns, seemingly for emphasis. My transcriptions usually spell them with a lower-case initial letter.

Names of people

If a name is used only once, I leave the spelling as is.

If a name is used multiple times, I use what seems to be the most common spelling.

For the six major family names -- Leeuwenhoek, de Meij, Swalmius, de Molijn, van den Berch, and Hogenhouck -- I chose the most common spelling and used it for everyone every time, even if in real life they used only a patronymic. This was the method used by Bleyswijck in the Beschryving der stad Delft and in Boitet's update in 1729, although they put most of the unused name in brackets.

For the first names, I spelled them consistently, but I often chose a name to differentiate it from others with similar names.

  • The most obvious is Antony. Many people in his family and in Delft had that name. But on Lens on Leeuwenhoek, his is the only one spelled that way. The others have an -ij instead of the y or a th instead of the t. Antony used all of them himself, but not here.
  • Maarten Leeuwenhoek (cousin Lambrecht's son) and Maerten Leeuwenhoek (uncle Huijch's son) both spelled their first names sometimes with an aa and other times with an ae. Only by the date can you tell who is who. However, on Lens on Leeuwenhoek, they are consistently spelled differently.
  • The many people named Margaret or some variant thereof, to say nothing of all the nicknames from Grietje to Gryetgen. Cousin Maerten's daughter used Helena all the time, but her real name was Magdaleentje.

The patronymics are another source of spelling variants. Given the tendency to continue using names in successive generations, the patronymic is the best way to distinguish two relatives.

On the actual documents, the notaries often used a squiggly flourish at the end of a man's patronymic and a slightly different squiggly flourish at the end of a woman's. People who have had to convert these to print over the years have made a variety of decisions, sometimes spelling out zoon and dochter. The most common abbreviations are zn. and dr.

I find it too easy to confuse that period with the full stop at the end of a sentence. Also, the first name makes the gender clear. On Lens on Leeuwenhoek, there's an s at the end of everyone's patronymic, male or female, whether or not they used it in documents.

Names of places

In general, if it's a proper place name, always capitalized, I leave it that way and provide an English translation in parentheses if it seems helpful or will avoid confusion. Buildings (Stadhuis, Nieuwe Kerk), waterways (Oude Delft), streets (Choorstraat), and cities (den Haag), for example, all stay in Dutch.

For other proper names, such as the archives, I often use a translation of the name, for example, Old Notary Archive instead of Oud Notarieel Archief.

Names of things

That is, common nouns, nouns that aren't proper nouns. In general, if it's a Dutch word, I translate it into English. To assist Dutch-language searches and to clarify my often arbitrary choice of an English equivalent, I usually put the Dutch word, italicized and in parentheses, after the first use of a translated word on a page. For consistency, I use only what seems to be the most common spelling from Leeuwenhoek's time. For examples, c and s are now often k and z. Camerbewaarder has become kamerbewaarder and 's Gravesande has become 's Gravezande, but I retain the older spellings. For direct quotations from the original documents, I retain the original spelling, and note the few words I change for the sake of clarity.

Leeuwenhoek's letters

Leeuwenhoek's letters present their own problems of database-friendly standardization. They span half a century, during which time not only did common usage of spelling and grammar change but Leeuwenhoek's writing skills and professionalism grew. All de Brieven / Collected Letters preserves the original Dutch spelling but stardardizes and normalizing the translations. Thus, searching in English is more reliable than searching in Dutch.