200 years of family names

Today is a memorable day for data quality in the Netherlands. Exactly two hundred years ago, on August 18, 1811, the French emperor (and occupier) Napoleon Bonaparte issued the decree that all citizens of the northern provinces of the Netherlands were to choose a surname. This name was very useful in the municipal registers of the Dutch inhabitants: how else could the French army know which lad to draw for military service, or which peasant to pursue for taxes?

After the retreat of the French, the Dutch authorities wisely kept the system of family names. They too wanted their tax system to function properly (they were Dutch, after all). The registration of family names gradually became common practise and with the growing population in the Netherlands, the municipal registers kept growing as well. During the last decades the scattered registers of all the municipalities were investigated, linked and combined, and put in large computer systems.

And now it became apparent that in the old days, data quality might not have been a top priority after all: For example, in the Netherlands there are more than thirty spelling variations of the name Mathijsen.

Which leaves the true data quality fans wondering whether a family name is actually the right family nameā€¦..

For more information on family names, please check the data cleansing products of Human Inference.

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