Doddema Origin

The origin of the name Doddema


When researching the family history of the Doddema’s, one of the obvious questions asked is: ‘What does the name Doddema mean and where does it come from?’

Our Germanic ancestors only had one name, comparable to our present-day first names. The further one goes back in time, the simpler the names, for instance: Abo, Athal, Bercht, Dodo, Edo, Fritho, Gero, etc.(Winkler, J.1885). Of such simple male names several hundred were used. Females had similar names, which were often, but not always, derived from the male names. When the number of people in a community (village) increased, the number of names became insufficient to distinguish the persons and two names were joined to become double names, for instance: Gero + Hart became Gerhart (later Gerard, Gerrit and Geert). Gero or Geer meant ‘lance’ and Hart meant ‘brave’. Therefore, Gerhart was ‘the brave spear’. Another example: Thiado (= people) + Rik (= powerful) first became Thiodorik, Theodorik and later Diederik and Dirk (Graaf, J.J. 1915). In many cases the parents probably expressed in the name of their child, the hopes they had for the future of that child. If they hoped their son would excel in bravery and wisdom, they named him Cunerad (later Coenraad, Konrad), from Cune (= brave) and Rad (= wise). Should he become a powerful man in his tribe, they named him Heinrik (later Henrik, Hendrik, Henk), from Hein (= home, tribe) and Rik (= powerful, rich).

The oldest of this type of name still consist clearly of two parts: Huge-Bert, Hermin-Gard, God-Schalk, Hilde-Gonde, Bern-Hart. Later these names were shortened again; Hildegonde became Hilde or Gonde (Gonny), Hugebert became Hugo, Adelbrecht became first Albrecht and later Albert ( Swaen, A.E.H. 1942), Bernhart became Bernard, Bert, Ben. One of the old Germanic names was Dodo, Doedo, Doede, Dodde. It probably derives from Thiado (= people) and according to one theory (Van der Plank, A.N.W. 1979), originated from a longer name through children’s language. Thus, a name like Thiado became in the mouth of a small child Do-do.

In the old Frisian language, a family name was formed by first putting the man’s name in the second case ( genitive), by adding an ‘a’ behind the name. Hylke became Hylka, Abo became Aba and Dodo became Doda. Next, a suffix was added, which expressed that the person belonged to the same ‘clan’, or extended family), comparable to the Scottish ‘Mac’. The type of suffix was dependent on the area where the group was living: in Friesland and Groningen (which was part in those days of greater Friesland) the suffix was usually ‘–ma’, ‘-inga’, or ‘–ia’. In Saxony (parts of present-day Germany and eastern Netherlands) the suffix was ‘–ens’, ‘-s’, or ‘–ink’. Consequently, the name Dodo became Dodama, Doddama, Doddema, Dodinga, Doddinga or Donia in the Frisian areas and Dodoens, Doddes, Doddens, or Dodink (and even Dudink) in the Saxon areas (Van der Plank, A.N.W. 1979). The suffix ‘–ma’ is typical for eastern Frisia, which was the area of present-day Groningen and the adjacent part of northern Germany (called ‘Oldambt’, ‘Reiderland’ and ‘Emsland’). Many such names occur in those parts: Bennema, Bronnema, Doddema, Epema, Epkema, Gercama, Gratama, Dekema, Feikema, Gaikema, Haitsema, Hobbema, Lycklama, Mellema, Piekema, Ritsema, Tietema, Wierdema, etc. The names ending on ‘–na’ also belong to this group. The ‘m’ changed under influence of the spoken language to an ‘n’, for instance: Attena (next to Attema), Habbena (next to Habbema), Ottena (next to Ottema), etc. (Van der Plank, A.N.W. 1979).

The common people usually had no family name in the northern parts of the country. They were called by their first name, often joined to a ‘patronym’, especially when more than one person in the village had the same name. Pieter, son of Jan and Geesien was called Pieter Jans, whereas Pieter, son of Geert and Jantje was called Pieter Geerts. Grietje Derks and Grietje Roelfs were the daughters of Derk and Roelf, respectively. Others were known by their nickname: Jan Schele (Jan Cross-eyes), Rooie Berend (Red-haired Berend), or Gerrit Bochel (Gerrit Hunchback). Others again were named for the place they came from: Geert van de Dijk (from the dike), Sjabbo van de Molen (from the mill), Harm Meedendorp (from the village of Meeden), or the occupation they had: Johannes de Boer (the farmer), Andreas Bakker (the baker), Tammo Mulder (the miller), or Kornelis Kuiper (the cooper). People with a ‘real’ family name were a minority and usually they were of an old, well-established family.

In 1810, The Netherlands was occupied by France under Napoleon Bonaparte. On his orders everyone in the country had to adopt a family name and be registered (that was more convenient when he wanted to conscript new soldiers for his armies). Usually, the existing ‘names’ were used and made official and sometimes an old family name was re-established. Some people believed Napoleon would soon disappear again and with him this nonsense of family names, so they invented funny names for themselves. Some called themselves Naaktgeboren (born naked), Schiettekatte (shitting cat), Snijdoodt (cut dead), Hondendorst (dogs thirst), Drooglever (dry liver) or Niemandsverdriet ( nobody’s sorrow). Unfortunately for them: Napoleon disappeared, but the names stayed!

The name, adopted by the four sons of Geert Claesen and by the son of Eetje Jans, was Doddema. There was no Dodde, Dodo or Doda in their direct ancestry, so why did they choose exactly this name? Or was it a name already in the family for a long time?


The names Dodinga and Dodama can be found in the northern part of The Netherlands in rather early times, as shown in the following (translated and adapted) fragments from Westendorp, N. 1829: “In the year 1248, Willem, Count of Holland, who had been elected German emperor in 1247, wanted to be crowned in the German city of Aachen, as had been his illustrious predecessor Charlemagne. However, the city of Aachen was on the side of the previous German emperor, Friedrich II, who had been deposed by the pope and refused to have the new emperor crowned within its walls. Willem composed an army of Brabanders, Zeelanders, Hollanders and Frisians and put siege to the town of Aachen during the whole summer of 1248. However, the siege was not complete on the northern side and the people of Aachen could still import food and weapons. In the autumn of that year the Frisians were able to occupy also the northern part of the land around Aachen, something none of the other regiments of the army had dared to do. They constructed a dam of forty feet high and flooded one third of the town. This finally forced the city to surrender. Now the Frisians wanted to go home, but the emperor refused to let them go.

Menco, the abbott of the Bloemhof monastery in Wittewierum in Friesland, who had been on a meeting of his order in Premonstreit, visited his countrymen on his way back in Aachen. ‘And it was on his insistence and with the mediation by the nobleman Thitard Dodinga, that the king and the kardinal allowed them to go home.’ At their farewell, the emperor acknowledged that the Frisians had been on the most difficult posts and that they had deflected a counterattack by Koenraad, the son of Friedrich II, three times. The emperor confirmed the special privileges of the Frisians, awarded to them by Charlemagne, in writing and gave them the right to use the medicinal baths of Aachen for free, to occupy a special place to view the relics of the saints in the cathedral of Aachen and to stay in the taverns of Aachen for free. The emperor himself was crowned in Aachen by two cardinals.” “Two brothers from Selwerd (now part of the town of Groningen), Egbert and Ludolf, the sons of the ‘miles’ Godschalk (a ‘miles’ was a vassal of the bisschop or the emperor, comparable to a knight) kidnapped a man from Twente and were accused of that crime in a meeting of allied noblemen in the city of Groningen. This called for a judicial investigation, but because the house of Selwerd was situated exactly on the border of the independent districts of Hunzegoo, Goorecht and Groningen, it had to be determined first under which jurisdiction the brothers fell. The nobles could not come to an agreement and finally it was decided to let the accused choose for themselves. In consultation with their family, it was decided that Egbert van Groenenberg, the judge of Goorecht, would try them. A declaration was signed that from now on the family of Selwerd would fall under the jurisdiction of Goorecht and not of Hunzegoo or Groningen. This declaration was enforced with the seal of Hunzegoo and signed by Duido Dodinga, Sifridus Gelekinga, Reuro van Brede, Ino Francius, Eltetus Gaikinga, Sjabbo Folkerda and Focco Wydria.

The document was handed over to judge Groenenberg and remained in force, even after the house of Selwerd was absorbed into the house of Groenenberg.” A convenient arrangement!

“In 1325 there was once again a meeting of the judges of Friesland and of other noblemen at the usual time near the ‘Opstalboom’ (a holy tree of the Germanic people near Aurich, East Frisia, Germany), with the purpose to improve the generally valid rules and to confirm the peace in the land. For the district of Fivelgoo were present Gerlof of Gethusum and Ludolf Obbema and for Hunsegoo there were Tytardus Gosschalkma and Folkmar Onsta. These Folcmar Onsicha, Luidolf Obbama and Thitardus Godeschalkisma are also mentioned in an agreement of 1326, together with Wabbo Folkerda and Aleco Dodama”.

From this fragment it is clear how the same names were written quite differently, sometimes even in the same paper! It does not say from which district Wabbo Folkerda and Aleco Dodama were, but most likely this was Oldambt/Reiderland. “Also in 1325, an official messenger of the bisschop of Munster was caught and locked up in eastern Groningen. The bisschop reacted by excommunicating a number of communities there. Through mediation of the judges and other ‘noble men’ an escalation was prevented and the differences were transferred to four judges in Reiderland. These, supported by wise priests, Gerlof from Vierhuizen, and Ludolf Ubbema for Reiderland, Tjard Goscalsma and Folkmar Onseda for Hunsegoo (same men as above) and Geert Sickinge and Roelof Buninga for Groningen, wrote a series of rules in which the relationship between the church and the communities was regulated. The document was enforced by the seals of Eemsland (Germany), Reiderland, Oldambt and the city of Groningen. ‘Several persons stood as guarantees for the fulfilment of the treaty, among whom were Thys Bronrema van Arwerd, Dodo Dodinga, Ernst Nena and Gayko Gaykinga of Garreweer.’
The people, responsible for the locking up of the messenger were now punished according to the new rules and the ban on the communities was lifted by the bisschop.”

From these fragments it is clear that the Dodinga/Dodama family was well respected in the 13th and 14th century and, although they did not belong to the old Frisian nobility, such as the Tjaarda’s, Bothnia’s, Roorda’s, or Kamminga’s, they probably had enough possessions to be called ‘noble men’. In the 17th and 18th century, when the written history of the present Doddema’s starts, that was quite different. With very few exceptions all the Doddema’s were farmhands, laborers, servants or maids. Of course, there is no proof (yet?) that the present Doddema’s are descendents of the 14th century Dodama’s, but it is interesting to see that a simple worker adopted exactly this name as his family name, when that was required by Napoleonic law. No other family used the name Doddema. Apparently it was a well-known name within the family and generally accepted as belonging to that family only.

I think, that they were from an old family indeed, but that they lost their ‘fame and fortune’ in the centuries between. What caused this loss is difficult to ascertain, but I speculate that it has to do with the floodings of the Dollard, a part of the Eems estuary between Germany and Groningen. Many families, that possessed land in the eastern part of the Oldambt and Reiderland were impoverished after the Dollard flooded their land and since the Dodama’s are mentioned especially in that area of Groningen, it cannot be excluded that it also happened to them. Maybe they were forced off their land by the water and they had to re-settle on one of the higher places in the province, such as the sand ridges south of the Oldambt. On one of these sand ridges, in Meeden, we find the first Doddema’s again.

16/02/2002.Henk Doddema

gathering ground for our families