The Dutch city of Utrecht is exploring the possibility of making it free for descendants of enslaved Africans to change their names. The announcement by city officials comes in the wake of recent debates about the European nation’s colonial history, The Guardian reported.
Dutch people who wish to change their second names are normally charged €835 ($983) for the process and are also required to undergo a psychology test to ascertain if they’re truly affected by a “derogatory” last name. But, Utrecht, which is the fourth-largest city in the Netherlands, is now looking at easing the bureaucracy for descendants of enslaved Africans who no longer want to bear surnames that have ties to the country’s history with slavery.
“It is inhumane that Surinamese and Antillean Dutch, who are descended from enslaved people, have to suffer daily from their last name,” a resolution from the city council stated.
The Netherlands operated 10 fortresses around the Gold Coast (now Ghana) where they held enslaved Africans in inhumane conditions during the slave trade. That was from 1612. And between the 16th and 19th centuries, over 500,000 enslaved Africans were reportedly shipped off to the Americas by Dutch traders. The European nation ultimately abolished slavery in 1863. But that was 30 years after Britain had done so.
Africans who were enslaved by the Dutch bore names of their owners or plantations. One of such plantation names is Eendragt. Others were also given names that were mixed up. This includes Vriesde (in reference to De Vries), Kenswil (Wilkens) and Madretsma (Amsterdam). And per BBC, some of these names mean Obedient, Cheap, Tame and Submission when translated.
The announcement by the city of Utrecht follows a report by a government-sanctioned independent panel that called on the European nation to officially apologize for the crimes against humanity it committed during the slave trade, The Guardian reported. But despite the report that came out early this year, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he was not going to offer an apology on behalf of the nation, claiming he does not have the capacity to judge the country’s history.
Meanwhile, officials in Utrecht also said they’re yet to finalize the resolution though the proposed spending may reportedly be criticized. “In this country people are very conscious of government spending and we do expect people will want to create a debate about the spending,” Xavier Donker, a representative of an organization that advocates for the rights of Caribbean Dutch people, said.
“It’s directly related to reparations – the general population, they are afraid of that, we also see that government itself is afraid of the financial consequences.”
Despite that, Donker said the proposal “is definitely a step forward towards recognition.”
“This country as well as other European countries are very much plagued with denial [about colonial legacy] and that denial is expressed in many different forms,” he added.