The Origins of the name Helleman

The name Helleman is not a very common name. Only a few dozen people in the Netherlands have this name, which includes its Roman Catholic derivative Hellemans. These all seem to have a common ancestor, who lived in the Dutch province of North Holland, extending to the North West of Amsterdam.

The presence of this family name goes as far back as the 13th century. This was the time the major Dutch cities, such as Amsterdam, Utrecht, Delft, and Gouda were being constructed. Because of the weak Dutch soil long poles were needed to anchor the tall town buildings into solid ground.

The only tree durable, long, and straight enough to be used for this purpose was the Norwegian pine. Dutch merchant ships made frequent journeys to the Southern part of Norway to collect the necessary timber. This part of Norway was not very prosperous in that era, with forestry and fishing being the main sources of living.

Helle, Norway

It must have been the anticipation of a better life that brought one Norwegian on board a Dutch merchant ship. A carpenter perhaps, looking for a career in rich Holland. His name may have been too difficult to pronounce by the Dutch sailors (or maybe he needed a new name...), which is why he was named after the village he was born in: Helle. Helleman, man from Helle. These sailors didn't make it any more difficult than that.

In itself Helle is the old Germanic word for hollows. It was a common name for places that were laying deep in a valley or gorge. Today there are two villages to be found in Southern Norway that have the name Helle. One is close to the coast, the other is somewhat further inland, where the forests are that provided the pine trees. The first Helleman might originate in either one.

Norwegian Fir
That I am not the only Helleman who has ventured out of the Netherlands is evident by the large number of people with that name in North America. Somehow we may all be related, but it goes back a few generations. Check out the Helleman family tree.


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