What’s in a name?

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 9, 2007

I have always had problems with my surname. Twenty-four years of pronouncing it, spelling, explaining and pronouncing it once more, has led to utter frustration.

Popular responses to my name are “VanDerBr-ah-k” or “VanDerBrok-ie” or “VanDerBroke” and sometimes even “VanDer…er…er,” then they just give up on the last part.

Half of the time I want to shout, “Don’t even try it! Say it after me.”

It’s VanDerBroek, the last part being pronounced “Brook” as in a brook or stream, not “Broke” as in your car broke down.

It’s really no one’s fault; I’ve massacred a few surnames myself.

For many of the millions of people that have immigrated to the U.S. many of them have changed their surnames to fit in or save themselves from being harassed or even killed.

My ancestors did this, and because of that half of my family spells their name VanDerBroek and the other half Vanderbrook.

Oddly enough the ones that spell it like the latter don’t have to endure the problems us “Broeks” do.

Which one is the correct spelling? Your guess is as good as mine. One half of my family says Vanderbrook, while the other says VanDerBroek is correct.

It’s a feud for the history books.

The whole thing started with my great-great grandfather Abram Vanderbrook II who came here from the Netherlands in 1900.

Yes, he spelled his name that way. It’s what was listed on all his official documents and even on his grave stone.

Now according to my side of the family, Abram II changed his name because he couldn’t get a job with his original name.

However, if you ask the Vanderbrooks they’ll tell you that it was his correct name.

Besides him, 12 of his 16 siblings came to the United States as well. From research my family knows that several of his siblings spelled their name VanDerBroek.

So, how did I become a VanDerBroek instead of a Vanderbrook?

That began with my grandfather, Abram IV or as everyone called him, Pip.

My great uncle, my grandfather’s brother and a Vanderbrook, says the reason why grandfather spelled his name VanDerBroek was because it was misspelled on his birth certificate.

Yet the VanDerBroeks will tell you that he decided to return his name back to the original spelling.

After doing research along with my mom on the topic for years, talking to family members and digging through ancient documents, I have come to believe that VanDerBroek is the correct spelling.

I believe the story that Abram II probably changed his name from VanDerBroek to Vanderbrook because he couldn’t get a job.

Let’s face it, immigrants back then (and even today) were treated like earthworms, and if you couldn’t speak English you were treated as earthworm excrement.

Different ethnic groups were territorial when it came to their area in towns.

If you were Dutch and looking for a job in an Italian or English populated area there was a good chance you weren’t going to get that job.

In order to survive you had to be a chameleon.

There’s also a possibility that some one wrote his name down wrong. In the Dutch language “e” is pronounced as an “o”, hence the reason “Broek” is pronounced as “brook”.

He may have decided to keep the Anglicized form of the name instead, creating the two different names.

Since many of Abram II’s siblings settled around the same area in New York when my grandfather was born it might be possible some one misspelled it thinking that he was one of the VanDerBroek’s children.

I’m not sure if my family will ever get to the bottom of this name dilemma.

Whatever the reason for the two different names the VanDerBroeks and the Vanderbrooks still treat each other like family.

Even if we can’t decide on how to spell our surname.