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  • Writer's pictureFrans Riemersma

Take a virtual hike through Zuid-Holland and Utrecht

This blog is a virtual hike. Grab a coffee and go 200 kilometers per hour. When ploughing through piles of research on where the Frisians roamed, we stumbled upon interesting Frisian place names.

A few weeks ago we, the two Frisian bastards, took another hike. We walked a track of 31 km along the river Vecht. In the early medieval times this river was the most important water highway between Dorestad and Scandinavia.

In this period mostly Vikings and Frisian traders roamed this area that used to be called Nifterlake. In the times of king Redbad these were the Frisian heartlands as it turned out.

We started at Breukelen, which give its name to the New York suburb Brooklyn. The track ended at Muiderslot in Muiden, at the shores of the former sea Almere/Zuiderzee (now a lake called IJsselmeer).

Underway we stumbled upon a village called Vreeland. That immediately made some alarm bells ring. Was Vreeland like Vreeswijk an old Frisian dwelling?

Vreeland dates back from at least the 7th century, Redbads time. Back in those days it was called 'Dorssen' (or Dorsken/Dursken). Durk is an old Frisian name. The suffix ‘sen’ might refer to ‘son’, equal to how Johnson refers to the ‘son of John’.

There are more Frisian roots in Zuid-Holland and Utrecht than we ever expected. This led to a conversation about the recent findings of two historians, Menno Dijkstra and Luit van der Tuuk. They explored some toponyms, names of places.

Take a virtual hike by looking at the map and read the place names for further details. In this blog a bit of background information follows.

Zuid Holland and Utrecht before 1000 AD

Two historians dived into the old place names. Menno Dijkstra wrote a book unraveling the Merovingian time, 500 aD - 750 aD. In those times, current Zeeland, Noord- and Zuid Holland and Utrecht were part West Frisia, according to Lex Frisionum. He explores the habitation in the area especially around the Rhine delta. Luit van der Tuuk explores the area around the river Vecht and Vecht delta.

According to Dijkstra there was a dense population in Zuid-Holland during the Roman times. Some estimated 10.000 to 15.000 people lived here. After the Romans left, around 300-500 aD it is estimated that only some 300 people lived here. In the Merovingian era this number rose to 2,000. In the Carolingian times this grew to 3,000 inhabitants.

Please note that the surface of Zuid Holland was 20% (!) of todays Zuid-Holland. Today is spans a 3.400 km2, while back in the early medieval times it was covering only 650 km2. And then still only 300 km2 was habitable. What caused this huge difference? Both the retreating sea due to climate change and the people reclaiming land increased the habitable surface.

Vos, P. & S. de Vries 2013: 2e generatie palaeogeografische kaarten van Nederland (versie 2.0). Deltares, Utrecht. Op 03-11-2018 gedownload van

Both van der Tuuk and Dijkstra found the place names in the list of real estate properties of the Sint-Martenschurch of Utrecht which dates from 870 aD. By looking at those names they are able to tell the roots of the place names. Place names tend not to follow fashion trends, not even linguistic trends. This is why they can serve almost as archaeological finds.

Place names as archaeological artifacts

Many names reveal their origin. Some parts of place names refer to home, a person (name) or a geographical element. For instance, you will find a lot of place names ending with the Frisian suffix 'heem', 'hem' or 'em'. 'Heem' resembles the English word 'home', the German word 'Heim' or current Frisian 'Hiem'. In the current province of Fryslân you find suffices like 'um', which has the same origin. Place names tend not to change a lot over time. As a result the Frisian suffix 'em' stayed present in the current provinces of Holland (former West Frisia), whereas the suffix has been 'updated' in current Fryslân to ' um'.

You will find hundreds of places across the Frisian coast ending with 'um', from Zeeland, Zuid Holand, Noord Holland, Fryslân, Groningen, Ost Friesland and North Friesland.

Other words include the Frisian words as ‘Kaag’. Kaag, was in Dutch (Frankish) called ‘Koog’. In current Dutch a kaag is called a ‘polder’. A polder is an area of ground reclaimed from a sea or lake by means of dikes.

Also places with the word ‘zwet’ in it have Frisian origins. ‘Zwet’ is the old Frisian word for ‘sweet’ (‘zoet’ in Dutch, 'swiet' in current Frisian).

Ready to take a deeper dive into place names? Here is an interesting document for you to download.

Both Kaag and Zwet place names have not been included. Also some 52% of the property list of the Saint Martenchurch have not been included. Their locations have not been discovered yet. Will you help us find them?

  1. Aldermuideweide

  2. Bergan

  3. Braacanhem

  4. Burem

  5. Elfnum

  6. Galighem

  7. Hanatce

  8. Hermeshem

  9. Heslem

  10. Heslem

  11. Macteshem

  12. Meynevelt

  13. Osbragttashem

  14. Oslem

  15. Pillinghem

  16. Potarnem

  17. Rufinghem

  18. Suabsna

  19. Suattingaburim

  20. Suithardeshaga

  21. Suthrem

  22. Ter Wadding

  23. Uilishem

  24. Vabbinghem

  25. Walricheshem

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