Surnames are about to go double Dutch

Surnames are about to go double Dutch

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In September, the Dutch House of Representatives approved a bill allowing children born after January 1, 2016 to have both of their parents’ surnames. Although this bill still has to go through the Dutch Senate, the need for reform is widely acknowledged. Everaert Advocaten explains further.

A new bill recently passed in parliament acknowledges the importance of someone’s name as a component of someone’s own personal, family and cultural identity. While names have lost importance for identification purposes for public administration, broad support for greater individual choice and gender equality has exposed the "rigid" nature of certain rules.

Names in the Netherlands

For a long time, the registration of names reflected traditional ideas. First, a child should be given one surname only and second, children automatically got their father’s surname. The "default" rule, if no choice is made, is that the child will get the father’s name or the wife of the birthmother’s name in case of marriage and registered partnerships.

Since 1998 opting for the (birth)mother’s surname has already been admitted. If born outside marriage or a registered partnership, the mother’s surname will, in principle, also be given to the child as the "default." When the new bill enters into force, combined surnames will become an option. In the absence of choice, the rules remain as they are.

New rules will also apply with regard to adoption if the bill enters into force. It will become possible to choose or add the original birth parent’s name as a surname.

Further reforms?

Among legal experts, there is consensus that the current system is far too rigid. In 2010 an advisory committee published some of its findings and proposals. Although well beyond the scope of this article to go into great detail, some proposed changes still recur in current debates.

International dimensions

Dutch private international law requires Dutch law to be applied to a Dutch person’s first name and surname. Foreign law applies to foreign names in principle. If parentage is established abroad and a name is changed, it can also be registered here.

Difficulties may arise if someone has more than one nationality and is registered with different names in various countries. An important change in that respect first came about in the Garcia Avello landmark ruling from the EU Court of Justice (2003). A Spanish-Belgian couple successfully disputed the impossibility of their child with both nationalities and having their child registered in Belgium with both surnames as in Spain.

Since then surnames have been firmly protected under the right to freedom of movement within the EU. Somewhat grudgingly Dutch law has accommodated this change. Thus, a child who holds Dutch nationality and the nationality of another EU Member State may have surnames from that other EU Member State. Nonetheless, if done here, this still requires an administrative procedure at the charge of an administrative fee (835 euros for up to two children).

Since combined surnames will now become an option, the new bill is expected to address many issues, albeit in respect of those born after January 1, 2016. For adults with Dutch nationality and another EU nationality, this route is not open.

Gendered surnames

In a number of countries, a person’s surname may vary according to that person’s gender, notably in Slavic countries (e.g. Ivanov, Ivanova). So far a parental choice to register a gendered surname in accordance with their cultural tradition has not been admitted.

Series (sequence) of names and patronyms

If your surname cannot be registered separately, this will result in no first name on your Dutch passport. However, in some countries, people have several names, usually a first name followed by the name of a father or grandfather. The dual distinction in Dutch law between first names and surnames may then sometimes be experienced as a straightjacket. Therefore, the advisory committee proposed two names out of a series of names to be admitted. As for (Slavic) patronyms, these are treated as first names.

Changing your name

Below are the procedures for changing first names and surnames:

First name

Bear in mind that the Dutch authorities cannot change a foreign birth certificate. Instead, you first have to register your foreign birth certificate. This takes around four months.

Changing your first name (or patronym) requires a court procedure. Once awarded, the name change will be registered after three months.

An open norm applies: the name should be "inappropriate." As a rule, a degree of psychological distress should be reported by a psychologist.


You have to be a Dutch national, stateless or have an asylum residence permit to apply. A six to 10 month administrative procedure should normally be pursued. You do not need representation by a lawyer, although this is often advisable. Your application is filed with Justis, a department of the Ministry of Justice and, if positive, results in a Royal decree (Koninklijk besluit).

Moreover, a government brochure only lists categories of valid reasons for the change of surname. For most applications, an administrative fee (835 euros) should be paid. Such costs are not involved if the parent whose name the person regrets having, has committed certain serious crimes. Yet not everyone neatly falls into a category. Thus, redressing colonial wrongs has helped those who have inherited a surname from slavery to have easier and cost-free access.

This overview is far from complete and this area of law is likely to remain complicated. If you have any questions regarding name changes, or need advice concerning any other area of the law, do not hesitate to contact the lawyers at Everaert Advocaten.

Richard Blauwhoff


Richard Blauwhoff

Richard studied International and European law and Portuguese linguistics and literature at Utrecht University in 2003 where he also defended an award-winning doctorate thesis in human rights and (comparative) parentage...

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