Who in the hell are you, Jan Franz Van Husum

Jan Franz Van Husum as I picture him


Genealogy and Ancestry.com being all the rage today, I got to wondering how my wife’s first known ancestor, Jan Franz Van Husum, got his name. This got me to wondering how anybody gets a name and then why names are necessary to begin with.

“Who in the hell are you?”

It is a question everyone is asked at some point in their life. Usually it arises when one person is lording it over another as in, “You need to leave this party!” or “You don’t know what the f*%$ you are talking about.” In both cases the offended party is wondering who in the hell is the person telling them off.

“Why should I listen to you?” one is thinking as if politeness doesn’t matter.

A name is nothing more than a descriptive word for an object, a convenience so we can remember who it is we are talking to which becomes especially important when we have to describe one person to another. When names don’t exist we are left with vague and inexact description we hear in every police report of an unknown subject – average height, normal complexion, brown eyes, no distinguishing features. Not exactly helpful.

Nope, it is easier to say “John, or Peter, or Paul” and better to add a last name to the first so that we don’t confuse the thousands of Johns, Peters, and Pauls. But how did John, Peter, and Paul get their names in the first place. We are all familiar with Jesus’ naming of Simon as Peter. Peter meant rock, and Jesus, by giving Simon the name “Peter” meant to symbolize that Peter was the foundation upon which Christ was going to build his church. Although in English, we have lost the understanding of the word Peter as rock, one can go to French where the name Peter is Piere, and “piere” in French is also the word for rock.

Jesus Christ, is it that simple?

And by the way, “Christ” is the Greek word for savior, so we simply have, in shorthand, Jesus, the savior mankind.

One could go through all the old names and come up with an origin. New parents love to still do this with baby names, and so, wanting to name a girl Hannah, discover that its original meaning was “she knows” or something like that.
In naming a child, the American Indian usually looked for a sign. Spotted Wolf has gathered quite a few Indian first names and if you want to give your child an Indian name you can go see their meaning at his web page.

Louis L’amour, writer of American western fiction, tells a similar story of cowhands in the early west who often went through life without a last name and often with a nickname picked up on the trail, and so many a Slim, Kid, Doc, Lefty, and Deadeye was born.

“Who in the hell are you?” took on new meaning if you were addressing Billy the “Kid” and not just a kid named Billy.

A relatively new phenomenon is that in the American black community of naming children with a mixture of names. There is a website for that too and there one can find in the “j’s” alone, coming in at 228 to 232:

228 Jekeil
229 Jeoffrey
230 Jeremias
231 Jerquis
232 Jervonte
more names

I suppose that the naming comes from a desire to stand out from the pack, to shed oneself of the white man’s naming system and start fresh. And to this end we shed the Elmers and Oscars and Horatios, the Mabels, Hatties, and Violets and adopt new monikers.


There is also a desire to step up in class like the Prussians and Dutch did by adding a simple ”von” or “van” to a name. Or take Rumpelstiltskin, Aloyisious, or Rapunzel as examples of medieval Europeans wanting to sound a little more important.


All this name calling reminds one of the Jim Croce 1973 hit I’ve got a name, whose lyrics go, “Like the pine trees lining the winding road / I got a name, I got a name / Like the singing bird and the croaking toad / I got a name, I got a name.” And in another song Croce goes on to explain how Big Bad Leroy Brown got his name.

Strings of names matter only if one wants to sound important. Take Queen Elizabeth II, born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, or her son Charles, born Charles Philip Arthur George, and also occasionally by Mountbatten-Windsor or his title Prince of Wales. And to keep other constituents happy, he is also known in Scotland as Duke of Rothesay and in South West England as Duke of Cornwall.

Maybe to the Brits this is all clear, but to me I would wonder who I am addressing.

So, who in the hell am I? Nothing and no one special, no Billy the Kid, no Doc Holiday, not even a Madonna, or a Lady Gaga, but I got a name my father and mother gave me and I do like to be listened to now and then. All the while, I am thinking that if one speaks the truth it shouldn’t matter where the voice comes from.

But it does. And who the hell you are makes a difference as to whether you get heard. Just ask Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders.

Well, this discussion has taken me far afield from my inquiry into Jan Franz Van Husum.

He was born in 1608, to parents we do not know, from a family unknown, in a country uncertain. His first name was a good Christian name that had been one of a number of names his parents could choose from. As for his last name, he had little need of one. In our daily dealings we often go without calling a friend or loved one by a last name. No need.

The need for Jan arose in 1634, when he got married and was about to board a boat for America. When asked by the register at the church what village he was from he answered from, “Husum,” and when asked his father’s name, said “Franz”.
So we have Jan Franz Van Husum. Isn’t that one hell of a name?

[Over the centuries the last name has been spelled with a few variations, Van Heusen is one of the more popular ones which is still found up in New York and in Pennsylvania. A second spelling is Van Huss, which came into being in North Carolina and spread west tow Tennessee, Texas, and Kansas. Jan and his wife Volkje settled in upstate New York. They are credited with founding the city of Albany.One thing that hasn’t changed much is the face. There is a strong family resemblance that one sees in Rembrant’s painting, The Night Watch. Look for the round face, the red and cheerful cheeks, the angular nose, and the brown hair and eyes.]

Who in the hell are you, Jan Franz Van Husum?

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