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Onomastic compounds

Although many names are complex, this complexity might primarily be relegated to onomastics proper. However, Frisian also shows a type of compound names in which a common noun is involved. An example is Greult-om Greult-uncle uncle Greult. The type is receding in use, although it still exists in the eastern part of the language area. It has a connotation of familiarity and also became used for persons outside the direct family. The stress in these compounds is on the first member, while the second member tends to be reduced to one syllable. This can also be seen in the given example, as -om is a reduction of om(me) uncle.


Frisian has a marginal compound type in which a personal name is combined with a noun to form a name. The most frequently used nouns are omke uncle and muoike aunt. Examples are Greult-om Greult-uncle uncle Greult or Saske-muoi Saske-aunt aunt Saske. As in English, an alternative phrasal construction with the relative noun in first position also exists, viz. omke Greult uncle Greult or muoike Saske aunt Saske. It should be noted that the forms omke and muoike, although nowadays the single form in use, both contain a diminutive suffix -ke. They have been derived from the forms om or omme and muoi or muoie, respectively. It is these base forms that must have been involved in the composition.

The compound itself functions as a name. Saske-muoi has the same referent as Saske, be it that in Saske-muoi also the nature of the relationship to the speaker is mentioned, i.e. that she is an aunt. Or the other way round, that she is an aunt with the name Saske. If the latter is true, than these formations resemble appositional compounds and in that case the second constituent would be the head.

Functioning as a name, the compound may also be used as vocative, for instance in

Saske-muoi, wolle jo in bakje kofje?
Saske-aunt, will you a cup.DIM coffee
Aunt Saske, do you want a cup of coffee?

It is mentioned in the literature that the construction is now becoming obsolete, although it is still in use in the eastern part of the language area. In the small town of Hindeloopen it is restricted to the relationships of great uncle and great aunt, which also points at a phenomenon in decline. That the construction is on the way back can also be detected from the noun tante aunt, a loan from French which has been imported via Dutch. This relatively new word does not show up in this construction; a formation like *Saske-tante does not exist. In older literary texts one can also come across examples like Tjesck-moar Tjesck-mother, Lolcke-miich Lolcke-relative, Oege-neef Oege-nephew or Swob-nift Swob-niece, but formations with these nouns do not occur in the present-day language anymore.

Although there is no difference in denotation between muoike Saske aunt Saske and Saske-muoi Saske-aunt, the connotation is not the same. The compound has a sense of colloquialness, intimacy, familiarity etc. This may have been the reason that the part -om became used to denote popular people, as for instance Gysbert-om (the Renaissance poet Gysbert Japicx, 1603-1666), Waling-om (the writer Waling Dykstra, 1821-1914) or Marijke-muoi (Maria van Hessen-Kassel, 1688-1765, regent of the stadtholder Willem IV). See also Hantsje-om, a nickname for the devil. A next step was that also ordinary nouns, although possible as vocative, were used as left-hand member: hospes-om for the hospes landlord or koster-om for the koster sexton. The formation dokter-om thus got a double denotation, not only for one's own doctor but also for the poet Eeltsje Halbertsma (1797-1858, who was also doctor in the village of Grou). The meaning could also get a negative load in sleauke-muoi, sjutsje-muoi, eameltsje-muoi and tutte-muoi, all of them designating lethargic women or girls. It is not the compound that adds to the negative value, however, as the left-hand nouns are already pejoratives in their own right.


The sense of intimacy also gave room for other nouns that were not restricted to family relations per se. The Renaissance poet Gysbert Japicx had Tjerne-maet and Reamer-frjeon, with the nouns maat and freon, both meaning friend. Other nouns became used as well, in particular as vocatives for children, like Jelle-mantsje Jelle-man.DIM, Oebele-boai Oebele-boy, Sjouke-jonge Sjouke-boy or Klaske-fanke Klaske-girl. The literature also mentions vocatives for spouses, like Tryn-âlde Tryn-old one, Jeltsje-lea Jeltsje-dear, Japke-pop Japke-dear, Tyske-skat Tyske-dear and Sip-hartsje Sip-heart.DIM dear Sip.

The construction also shows up outside the field of family relations. In older literary texts one finds nouns like boer farmer and baas boss, as in Sjouke-boer Sjouke-farmer farmer Sjouke or Joute-baas Joute-boss boss Joute. Likewise, such formations have a connotation of familiarity. Note that nouns like boer farmer and baas boss also may occur as vocatives.

[+]Phonological properties

The stress in the compound is always on the first member, for example in Greult-om.

The nominal part of the compound tends to be monosyllabic. The forms -om uncle and -muoi aunt will have their origin in the nouns omme and muoie, with the final schwa truncated. We find the tendency also in the example Jeltsje-lea Jeltsje-dear, where the form -lea must have been derived from the noun leave loved one. Morphologically, this is built up from the adjective leaf dear plus a suffix -e, so we can conclude that the reduction is purely phonological. This is also the case in the example Hinke-fang. The second member, pronounced as [faŋ], is a shortening of the noun fanke [faŋkə] girl. Although fanke can be characterized as a diminutive on formal grounds, the base *fan [fan] does not exist. The dorsal nasal [ŋ] in -fang must be the residue of the phonological reduction of fanke [faŋkə].

A phrasal similarity

At first sight, another construction highly resembles the compounds dealt with in this topic. Examples like Gabe skroar Gabe tailor tailor Gabe or Jan bakker John baker baker John are involved here. A common feature might may that they share the connotation of familiarity. However, there are also some essential differences. The first one is stress, which is not on the name but rather on the noun, hence Gabe skroar. Secondly, the right-hand nouns typically consist of profession names, not nouns expressing family relations. Furthermore, these constructions are less likely to show up as vocatives. The analysis of the noun acting as an appositive is probably the most adequate. As a result, these combinations are not spelled as one word.


The first one to draw attention to this type of compound was Verdenius (1940). He additionally gives some examples from older Dutch and from Dutch dialects. A good overview and lots of data can also be found in Tamminga (1963:123-127). The pejorative formations with muoi are mentioned in Tamminga (1973:143). The data on the dialect of Hindeloopen can be found in Blom and Dyk (2019).

  • Blom, Gosse & Dyk, Siebrento appearGraet Hylper WordebookFryske Akademy
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1963Op 'e taelhelling. Losse trochsneden fan Frysk taellibben. IBoalsertA.J. Osinga
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1973Op 'e taelhelling. Losse trochsneden fan Frysk taellibben. IIA.J. Osinga
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