Descendants of African slaves in the Dutch city of Utrecht can now drop their muddled surnames of their owners, plantations s change their surnames, after the city decided to make the name change procedure free of charge.
Under existing Dutch rules, if you have a surname considered ridiculous such as Anus, Garlic or Naked-born, there is no requirement to prove it is undesirable. However, if your name has its origins in the Dutch colonial legacy, an expensive psychological examination is often required on top of the fee.
Now the city of Utrecht could even pay for descendants of enslaved people to change their names, a sign of the growing debate in the Netherlands about its colonial past.
People in the Netherlands who want to change their second name usually have to pay €835 and take a psychological test to prove they are bothered by a “derogatory” surname.
“It is inhumane that Surinamese and Antillean Dutch, who are descended from enslaved people, have to suffer daily from their last name,” states a resolution, which was supported by most parties on the city council, including the centre-right Christian Union, Labour and the Greens. The councillors urged the municipality to “explore the possibilities” to pay for people to change their names.
“It’s not right to then ask for money to turn back the procedure,” says Linda Nooitmeer, chair of the national institute for Dutch slavery history.
Her own name translates as Never Again. Even though she’s relatively happy as it was chosen by her ancestors, she is thinking of changing it. She sees Utrecht’s move as “part of the healing process, to give people the freedom and identity back”.