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Difference Between Von and Van

Von vs Van

The surname prefixes (or last name prefix) von and van are often found in European surnames or in people of European descent. Since surnames often lost their meaning in time or can be subject to change (either by completely changing the name or dropping it) by the people who hold it, there has been confusion on the use of von and van.

Other similar prefixes can also be found in other European languages and countries. The French have the prefixes: D’, De, La, Le, Du, and Des while the Italians have: A, D’, Da, De, Del, Della, Di, Li, in addition to Lo. The Portuguese surnames have the prefixes Da with Dos while the Spanish last names have Las, De, De las, as well as Del before them. The Slovaks and the Czech surnames have only a letter for a prefix – the letter z.

Both von and van are prefixes on a surname which means “of” or “from.” In the early days, most surnames are derived from different areas. Some people adopted surnames from a point of reference – something that identifies themselves from others. Surnames are often derived from a person’s father or ancestor, personal or physical characteristics, professions, or places of origin or territory associated with them. Both von and van act as glue between the given name and the surname. That is the only similarity between the two.

First, von is German in origin. It has been used by all members of the noble families in German countries until the Middle Ages. A person who is or has become a noble can put “von” before their surname to indicate this status. After the Middle Ages, it has been transformed into a common prefix to any Germanic surname and was later used by commoners. It has been a familiar pattern in German surnames to begin with von. Since German blood also flourishes in Austria and Russia, many Austrian and Russian citizens carry the prefix as part of the German surname.

On the other hand, van is Dutch in origin. Unlike the German von, van is used by common folk and is found in common places – from shops to elegant mansions. Van usually indicates a geographical location or a place. In interpreting some surnames, van is attached to the surname itself. For example, in the name Vincent van Gogh, van Gogh is the surname. However, in the sample Vandermonde, van is attached and is capitalized as a noun. Capitalization of van also doesn’t vary with the succeeding surname and is used in converting Dutch names to English or if the name is of Vietnamese origin.

Von can also come in other forms like von der. This is also the case for the Dutch van since its alternative form is van der. Other Dutch prefixes also include: De, Den, op de, ter, ten, Van ‘t while German has the additional prefix Zu for other surnames. It is also noted that last name suffixes are not considered when a name is sorted.


1.The prefix von is associated with German origin while van is commonly affixed to Dutch and Vietnamese surnames.
2.The von prefix has some history of being affiliated with noble families and oligarchy while van is used predominately and commonly for lesser purposes.
3.Since von is linked to its Germanic/Austrian surnames, people with German roots and who emigrated from Germany hold this prefix in their surname while living in other countries. The same is true for van though it comes with Dutch/Flemish roots.
4.German von can also take the form of von der while the same can be done with the Dutch van with van der.

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  1. Excellent text!

    Does there also exist “Von De”???

  2. I was thought van is german words, and now i know that it is dutch, thank you for the explanation

  3. My last name is Festervan. My great grand parents came from Holland mid 1800’s. I am wondering where they were from….. does the van pronoun apply if it attached at the end of a name?

  4. I am trying to find out if the surname Van Gouldt exists either in The Netherlands or Germamy

  5. Thank you in advance

  6. My last name is Dutch and it means of the Peace. But I am not really a peace full guy. I claimed bankruptcy for over $100,000 and never plan on paying it back. I was working in Finance but stole some money because my business failed. Then I claimed bankruptcy. Now I am tending bar because no one will hire me for a real job. I guess I am a disgrace to my last name.

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