The Leeuwenhoek name: How to spell it

In the 1600's, spelling was not standardized. Many of the names in the documents discussed on this web have at least two spellings, sometimes in the same document. The Delft baptism, marriage, and burial records have half-a-dozen different combinations of Leeuwenhoek's name, three variants of his first name and three of the family name. In a 1660 document about city trash collection, his name is spelled Leeuwevelt!

  • Thonis - his baptism (see below left, click for large version. Painter Jan Vermeer is on second entry from top. See also detail below) on November 4, 1632
  • Anthoni Leeuwenhouck - his first marriage in 1654; also biographer Schierbeek (in 1950)
  • Anthonij Leeuwenhouck - his children's burials in 1655 and 1658
  • Anthonij Leeuwenhoeck - his second marriage, registered on January 10, 1671, in Delft
  • Anthony Leeuwenhoeck - his second wedding on January 25, 1671, in Pijnacker, a village near Delft; also, biographer Bouricius
  • Antoni van Leeuwenhoek - his letters and self-publications after the mid-1680s. See Letter 79 [40] of 28 December 1683; also, the Dutch Wikipedia
  • Anthonij van Leeuwenhoek - his burial, registered on August 31, 1723
  • Antonie van Leeuwenhoek - English Wikipedia
  • Antony van Leeuwenhoek - biographers Haaxman, Dobell, and Schierbeek (early in his career)
  • Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek - Alle de Brieven / Collected Letters
The spelling used throughout this web, Antony, is the one he used most often for his letters and self-publications with the final letter as "y" instead of the Dutch long "i". The rationale for this spelling in Dobell's biography on pp. 300-305 is convincing.
In the titles and the tables of contents of the hundred and some letters published in Philosophical Transactions over fifty years, Leeuwenhoek's last name is spelled twenty-one different ways. Dobell lists 19 of them, but he missed a few.
The four most common, in descending order:
  • Leeuwenhoek
  • Leewenhoeck
  • Leuwenhoek
  • Leeuwenhoec

In Dutch, this name has two parts. The Leeuwen part means lions, which was the dominant image (see right) in the coat of arms (wapenschild) of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, established in 1581. Note the seven arrows, one for each province. The Leeuwenpoort (lion's gate) was next to his childhood home along Delft's Oosteinde gracht. His family, then, lived on the corner of the Leeuwenpoort.

Leeuwenhoek and other Dutch people rarely varied the spelling in the first part of the name. The English, as you can see from the list above, didn't treat the Leeuwen with the same reverence.

For the Dutch people, as well as the English, the second part of the name was the challenge. Hoek is Dutch for "corner". Hexham's dictionary of 1648 spells it hoeck. Sewel's dictionary of 1735 spells it hoek. The English spelled it phonetically.

Thus, the literal translation of "van Leeuwenhoek": from the lion's corner.

Detail from baptism record

Month November 1632
4: child Thonis, father Philips Thonisz, mother Grietge
Jacobs, witnesses Thonis Philipsz, Huijch Thonisz,
Magdalena and Catarina Jacobsdr
This fluid situation, along with variant spellings, provides a special challenge for modern database searches. It is best to search with a wildcard: leeuwen* or, if possible l*wen*.

The Google Ngram chart below illustrates this situation by showing the relative frequency of only four different spellings of Leeuwenhoek's name in English publications during his lifetime.