52 Ancestors: Week #15: How do you spell that?


Tjerk Jacobus Roorda, aka Richard James Roorda, c. 1925, age 37

The prompt for Week #15 of the 52 Ancestors/52 Weeks Challenge is HOW DO YOU SPELL THAT? What ancestor do you imagine was frequently asked that? Which ancestor did you have a hard time finding because of an unusual name?

My paternal grandfather was Tjerk Jacobus Roorda, born in 1887 in the province of Friesland, Netherlands. When he emigrated to Iowa in 1902 at the age of 14, leaving his parents and siblings behind in Friesland, he changed his name to Richard James Roorda. I’ve never heard the story of his name change–why he choose Richard James–so therefore all I can do is speculate about his choice.

It’s easy to imagine why my grandfather changed his first name. The name “Tjerk” doesn’t sound quite so much in Dutch like the work “jerk” as it does in English, but because of the similarity to the English word, I doubt that there were very many Dutch emigrants named Tjerk who didn’t change their name, pretty fast, once they got here. I know of one other “Tjerk” in the family (I won’t go for the easy joke there–ha), and his name became Dirk. My grandfather was commonly known as “Dick,” so it’s reasonable to assume that he chose Dick to replace his first name and then elevated the nickname to the more formal “Richard.”

“Jacobus” was his father’s name. Dutch naming conventions are very particular. In her blog about Dutch Genealogy, professional genealogist Yvette Hoitink has this informative post: Quick tip: naming patterns. In a Dutch family, the first son was named after the paternal grandfather. Since my grandfather was the family’s first son, he was named after his father’s father–Tjerk Jans Roorda. His middle name was his father’s first name, Jacobus Tjerks Roorda. The “Tjerk/Tjerks” names go back through the generations in this Roorda family, Tjerk when it’s used as a first name and Tjerks when it’s the middle name (probably used, in the middle name, as the equivalent “son of,” so in this case, Tjerks = son of Tjerk). All of my grandfather’s male siblings have “Jacobus” as a middle name. According to Yvette Hoitink’s post, the English equivalent of Jacobus would be “Jacob.” So it’s interesting that my grandfather changed his middle name Jacobus to James.

So it was that the newly-minted immigrant Tjerk Jacobus Roorda became Richard James Roorda, known as Dick or often just by his initials, RJR.


Naturalization Certificate for Richard James Roorda. RJR was naturalized in 1921; this certificate is dated 1961.

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One Response to 52 Ancestors: Week #15: How do you spell that?

  1. When searching original parish records in Scotland for my ancestors, the name James is recorded as Jacobus. All of the names at that time were changed to Latin.


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