The Bethlehem name thing

Often I get questions about my last name. Am I Jewish? Does my family come from the Israel area? Am I religious at all? The answers are no, no and no. But they lead me to research my past for a bit, and here are the results.

The Bethlehem farm house The first thing to know is, why is my family called "Bethlehem"? It's a very old name, as is obvious from Christian lore. Many convents and cities around the world were named Bethlehem, as a tribute to the place in Palestine.

That's probably how the little farm on the outskirts of the town Beetsterzwaag got its name. How exactly it got its name, and when it was built is shrouded in mystery. The farm, pictured to the right, has been spotted on maps dating back to 1680. A publication from 1786 suggests the farm was most likely built on the ruins of an old convent. Proof of this, however, has never been found.

Around 1709 documents of the local Dutch Reformed Church first show actual people referring to themselves as being "from Bethlehem", or "Bethlem".

In 1810, France annexed the Netherlands. In 1811, Napoleon who ruled the Netherlands from 1795 to 1813, decreed that all Dutch people not previously having a surname had to adopt and register one. This was significant, as my ancestor Durk Jans lived in the farm called Bethlehem at the time. It was he who had the bright idea to officially name himself after the farm, specifically, he requested he could keep the name, thus proving the name existed there before Napoleons decree.

The farm "Bethlehem" can still be seen today.

As for my first name, Hayo, its a variant of the German name Haie. No great historical stories on that one, however I did manage to track down the first Bethlehem to use the name. Haaije Bethlehem was born in 1812, and married Cornelia van Bovene in Gouda. Nothing much else was known about him, except that he was a policeman.