Updated: Jun 19
Brooklyn. Named after the village of Breukelen in the Netherlands. But its original early-medieval 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. In fact, the phrase 'and so forth', derives from Dutch enzovoort. And, we must not forget, Yankee itself. Named after the zillion Dutch guys living in New Amsterdam, who were called either Jan or Kees. Therefore, the Jankees.
Breukelen and shire Niftarlake
The original Dutch Brooklyn, Breukelen, is a modest village of nearly 11,000 inhabitants. It is located at the riverbanks of the small river Vecht in the centre of the Netherlands. Small but with a very rich history. Not because the Dutch-American actor Rutger Hauer was born here. No, we'll bet you dollars to doughnuts 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 the Roman Period. 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. The modern village of Abcoude along the stream Het Gein, was originally named Abecenuualde, meaning 'wood of Abbe'. Abbe or Abbo was a typical Frisian first name.
At the settlement Amuthon (Muiden), 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 the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I the Great, donates the pagus Niftarlake to the bishopric of Utrecht. Leaving Hatto deprived of his rights and income: a skel on the stoop.
With all these names and connections, it is not for nuttin' that the river Vecht region is thought to have been an important centre of influential, noble families within Frisia, and already in the early seventh century.
Nobleman Wursing and Attingahem
A very important Frisian big man living in the river 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. Weisenheimer Wursing lived around AD 700 and was a contemporary and aquaintance of the illustrious King Redbad of Frisia and whose Frankish nickname was 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.
Wursing's nickname was Ado or Atte. The settlement where he lived was known by his name, namely Attingahem, which thus translates as 'Atte’s home'.
The first name Atte is still current in province Friesland in the Netherlands.
In AD 722, a few years after Frisia was incorperated into the Frankish kingdom, it was the Anglo-Saxon monk and missionary Wynfreth (later known as Saint 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 Broclede (which evolved into Breukelen) somewhere around AD 1050, with a time range of a century earlier or later. So, bit unclear when. But, it did. The settlement called Broclede surfaces in a charter of AD 1139. Broc, or broek, means 'wetland or bog'. Circumneutral bog, to be precise. Lede means '(dug) stream'.
So, Brooklyn 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. It might simply be that the name Broclede that typified the surrounding landscape supplanted that of Attingahem. However, many other place names of Frisian origin in the wider region of the river Vecht got legs as well. This had to do with the de-Frisianization of western Frisia (i.e. the area that 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 when big boss Otto took it away from Hatto.
Another important factor explaining why the Frisian identity totally 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 fossil-fuel revolution of the brown gold. Maybe the indigenous Lenni Lenape and Delaware had similar experiences as the Frisians with al those immigrants from elsewhere settling in New York.
So, from Attingahem to Breukelen to Brooklyn! From Frisian to Dutch to American.
What the world missed
Well, imagine the catchy names that could have been: The Attingahem Dodgers, the Attingahem Cyclons, Attingahem College, the Attingahem Nets, the movie Attingahem Rules, Attingahem Nine-Nine, and Attingahem Bridge. And, of course, let's not forget the movie Saterday Night Fever, which would have been shot in the streets of Attingahem, instead of Brooklyn.
Bee Gees, Saterday Night Fever (1977)
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)
Lampos, J. & Pearson, M., Brooklynisms (2005)
Manten, A.A., Hoe oud is Breukelen? (1986)
Tuuk, van der L. & Cruysheer, A., De Utrechtse Vecht. Levensader in de vroege middeleeuwen (2013)