Updated: May 18
Brooklyn. Named after the village of Breukelen in the Netherlands. But its original Frisian name was Attingahem. With only a little twist of history Brooklyn would have been named Attingahem today and the Brooklyn Bridge, the Attingahem Bridge. The streets of Brooklyn, the set of movies like The Warriors ('79), The French Connection ('71), Once Upon a Time in America ('84) and, of course, Saterday Night Fever ('77). But many more.
The name Breukelen (i.e. Breuckelen) was brought to the New Wold in the first half of the seventeenth century when Nieuw Amsterdam ‘New Amsterdam’ was founded and now known to the world as New York. Many other names remind of the Dutch immigrants back then, like Flushing (town of Vlissingen), Harlem (town of Haarlem), Staten Island (Stateneiland), Broadway (brede weg), the small porches called stoops (stoep), and so forth. And, we must not forget, Yankee itself. Named after the zillion Dutch guys called Jan and Kees, living in Nieuw Amsterdam. Therefore, the Jankees.
Breukelen, a modest village of nearly 11,000 inhabitants, is located at the banks of the small river Vecht in the centre of the Netherlands. Small but with a rich history. Not only because the Dutch-American actor Rutger Hauer was born here. No, there is much more. The river Vecht was an important route between the river Rhine and lake Almere (now lake IJssel or IJsselmeer) already in Roman times. By the Early Middle Ages, the Frisians had taken control over the river Vecht and the wider area. It was an area called pagus 'shire' Niftarlake, also Nifterlake or Nifterlaca. Niftar means 'along' and lake or laca means 'stream'. The first documented reference of pagus Niftarlake is in AD 723 and the last in AD 953. From then on the shire is called by its Latin name luxta Vechtam 'along the Vecht'. The component luxta is the same as niftar.
The pagus Niftarlake encompassed the area between the settlement of Amuthon, current village of Muiden, in the north and the settlement Feht or Fethna in the south, current town of Vechten. At Amuthon the river Vecht flowed into lake Almere. At the settlement Feht, a name that originates from the Roman fortress Fectio, the river Rhine split into the rivers Vecht and Old Rhine. Three smaller streams called Aa, Angstel and Het Gein also belonged to the pagus Niftarlake.
At the settlement Amuthon, in the tenth century, ships had to pay a toll by order of the Frankish king. This toll was collected by the Frisian nobleman Count Waldger and his son, Count Radbod, afterward. This Count Radbod is not to be confused with King Radbod who lived a few centuries before him. Nor with Saint Radbod, who was bishop of Utrecht at the end of the ninth century. Count Radbod probably died without offspring. After counts Waldger and Radbod, Hatto is count of the pagus Nifterlake. Waldger, Radbod and Hatto were probably not only count of the pagus Niftarlake, but of the pagus Teisterbant and the pagus Lek-and-IJssel as well. In AD 953 Count Hatto somehow forfeits his rights and Holy Roman Emperor Otto I donates the pagus Niftarlake to the bishopric of Utrecht.
A very important Frisian big man living in the Vecht region before it became part of the Frankish Empire in the beginning of the eighth century, was the Frisian nobleman Wursing with his two sons Thiadgrim and Nothgrim. He lived around AD 700 and was a contemporary and aquaintance of the Frisian King Redbad aka the Enemy of God. Wursing was also the grandfather of Saint Ludger, born in the village Suecsnon, current Zuilen, more upstream the river Vecht. Ludger was not the first within the family to become an influential cleric. Wursing's brother, Hildigrim, made it to bishop of Helmstadt in Germany and to bishop of Châlons in France. It is therefore thought the river Vecht region was an important centre of influential families within Frisia, already in the seventh century.
Wursing's nickname was Ado or Atte. The settlement where he lived was known by his name, namely Attingahem, which translates as 'Atte’s home'.
In AD 722, a few years after Frisia was incorperated into the Frankish kingdom, it was the Anglo-Saxon monk Boniface who used Attingahem as his base to convert the still heathen Frisians. There, Boniface probably founded the parish church dedicated to Saint Peter. In AD 1705 the location of this church was located, after several sarcophagi of tuff stone were excavated. The type of sarcophagi, i.e. without a base, suggests these are early Carolingian coffins. Thus, the beginning of the ninth century.
Attingahem changed its name into Breukelen somewhere around AD 1050, with a range of a century earlier or later. So, bit unclear when, but it did. The settlement called Broclede surfaces in AD 1139. Broc, or broek, means 'wetland or bog'. Circumneutral bog, to be precise. Lede means '(dug) stream'. So, Breukelen means 'dug-stream -in-circumneutral-bog'. The Brooklynites will be thrilled with this translation.
We do not know why Attingahem changed its name into Breukelen but many other place names of Frisian origin disappeared in the region of the river Vecht as well, and in the wider area too. This might have to do with the de-Frisianization of western Frisia (i.e. what is now the combined provinces Noord Holland, Zuid Holland, Zeeland and part of province Utrecht) that had started in the tenth century. The influence of the Frankish bishopric of Utrecht expanded and got control over the pagus Niftarlake in the tenth century (as said in AD 953). Another important factor why the Frisian identity disappeared, was the large-scale, commercial peat reclamation in the High Middle Ages: the so-called Great Reclamation. It led to an influx of people from elsewhere. Read our blog post The United Frisian Emirates and Black Peat to get a basic idea of this brown-gold revolution.
John Travolta in (click link for music) Saterday Night Fever, Brooklyn, just after having finished two slices of Lenny's Pizza
Well, imagine the catchy names: The Attingahem Dodgers, the Attingahem Cyclons, Attingahem College, the Attingahem Nets, the movie Attingahem Rules, Attingahem Nine-Nine, and Attingahem Bridge. And, of course, do not forget the movie Saterday Night Fever would have been shot in the streets of Attingahem instead of Brooklyn.
Buitelaar, A.L.P., De Stichtse ministerialiteit en de ontginningen in de Utrechtse Vechtstreek (1993)
Henderikx, A.A., Land, water en bewoning. Waterstaats- en nederzettingsgeschiedenis in de Zeeuwse en Hollandse delta in de Middeleeuwen; Het Cartularium van Radbod (2001)
Manten, A.A., Hoe oud is Breukelen? (1986)
Tuuk, van der L. & Cruysheer, A., De Utrechtse Vecht. Levensader in de vroege middeleeuwen (2013)