In German, and other languages, it is common to have a word between your first and last name.

For example, a typical Dutch name would be:
"Jan de Vries". Where "Vries" is the last name and "Jan" the first name.

"Charles de Gaulle" is a French example.

What would I call "de" in this case?

  • 1
    From what I have heard, de is just a preposition to a toponymic surname. If the surname is Vries, then de Vries is like, from Vries. Aug 26, 2016 at 8:56
  • 2
    In French at least, the "de" in front of a last name is part of the last name, so it should stay the same in English (e.g.: Charles de Gaulle - French president during WW2).
    – MorganFR
    Aug 26, 2016 at 9:13
  • @NagarajanShanmuganathan Actually, that would be van, as in Jeroen van Velzen. De is the definite article and is also often used to indicate a person's origin (de Vries would roughly translate as the Frisian, similarly den Hollander would be the Dutchman) but also to indicate professions (de Smid, (the) Smith) or other properties ( _de Lange, the Tall).
    – oerkelens
    Aug 26, 2016 at 10:20
  • Additionally, in de Vries, the surname is not Vries. The whole de Vries is considered the surname. In Belgium (contrary to the Netherlands), the middle part is even used in alphabetical ordering, so de Vries would be found near Vrijlandt, whereas Vries would be ordered near Van Velzen.
    – oerkelens
    Aug 26, 2016 at 10:22
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    "de" , "von" or "della" are nobiliary particles. But, they are not always a sign of nobility.
    – Graffito
    Aug 26, 2016 at 11:07

2 Answers 2


@Graffito pointed a possible the answer when he mentioned the nobiliary particle:

A nobiliary particle is used in a surname or family name in many Western cultures to signal the nobility of a family.

However, the mentioned de, as well as the common Dutch van are not signs of nobility (contrary to the German Von). However, the wikipedia article continues:

However, in some languages the nobiliary particle is the same as a regular prepositional particle that was used in the creation of many surnames.

So it seems that at least grammatically we can refer to it as a prepositional particle, used in the same way as a nobiliary particle.

Of course, I doubt anyone would know what to fill in on a form if you use prepositional particle as a descriptor of a name field...

As far as usage is concerned, the prepositional particle is considered part of the surname. So Jan de Vries has the surname de Vries, not Vries. In Belgium, the prepositional particle is even used when ordering names alphabetically.

  • 1
    This answer could benefit from incorporating your comment, that in English generally "in de Vries, the surname is not Vries. The whole de Vries is considered the surname". I'd suggest two sections to this answer: 1. Grammatical answer (what you already have). 2. Practical answer (your quoted comment). [ I felt this was too big an edit to make myself without permission.]
    – AndyT
    Aug 26, 2016 at 16:16
  • I like that you considered the usage of this in a form, which was indeed my initial purpose.
    – user193218
    Sep 1, 2016 at 17:08

If we agree de is part of the surname rather than a separator between first and last name, perhaps it is simply a Surname prefix

Looking at Wikipedia for Celtic Onomastics (and I think same principle applies to Celtic/Dutch/German/etc), it calls these Surname Prefixes, as follows ...

Surname prefixes [...]

De: "of the": a Norman-French habitational prefix used by some of the most common Irish surnames among which are De Búrca, Le Brún, De Barra, De Cíosóg, Devane and de Faoite. 'De' historically has signaled ownership of lands and was traditionally therefore a mark of prestige.

Mac: for most purposes, taken to mean "son of", as in Mac Néill (son of Neil).

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