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What is in a name? Answer: a Space

June 5th, 2011

It seems that all my life I have misspelled my last name (well, not all my life). The correct spelling of my surname is “De Backer”, not “DeBacker”. This was pointed out to me by my contact in Belgium.  He writes…

You mention very often the name “DeBacker”. Maybe it is an American way of writing, but in Belgium (and i think in all Europe) the name is NEVER written that way (with two uppers in one word), from the early centuries until now.  Before 1800, the writing of a name was not really standardized, but there is of course a continuity.  Accidental variations around our De Backer family are De Backer, Debacker, De Backere, Debackere, de Backer, de backer (unofficial, by facility), but never DeBacker. This way of writing doesn’t even exist in any name. Some accidental variations in writing were sometimes “accepted” in certain families and taken as a new writing from there. If written differently, it is another family name. Actually none of these variations has survived in all the “De Backer” branches I know. After 1800 the name is standardized. As a summary, as far as i know now for us and from at least 1650, it is “De Backer”, with two uppers.

I do not know when exactly my “De Backer” ancestors changed the spelling of their surname. My father had speculated that when his great-grandfather and grandfather came over from Belgium in 1883 that the name was changed when they arrived. However, I believe that it was later.

The community that they settled in (St. Marys, Kansas) was mainly settled by Belgians and Franco-Swiss and in local newspapers and census records prior to WWI appears as both “De Backer” and “DeBacker”.

During WWI there was a great deal of anti-German hysteria in this country and many  people of English descent were confused about who were “Germans”.  People of Dutch, Flemish and Swiss descent were “suspected” of being Germans because of their names and nothing else.  It seems rather difficult to imagine the stupidity of these people who were not aware that many Belgians were dying on the front-lines fighting the German invasion of their country. My great-grandfather, Dr. August De Backer, had to prove his “loyalty” by registering for the military draft at age 54 in 1917. It was during this time that I believe is when they stopped using “De Backer” and from that point forward that it became “DeBacker”. (See a previous post on this subject). August De Backer’s obituary in 1923 has his surname as “DeBacker”.

I became aware of this back in the 70′s when a friend had sent my father a photograph of a shop in Brussels. The shop’s name was “DE BACKER”. I asked my father about this and he said that “De Backer” was the correct original spelling. So I decided to start spelling my name “De Backer”. My father warned me that this could cause complications, but I ignored him. Throughout the 1980′s I used the name “De Backer”, but I did run into problems when everything started to become computerized. Suddenly I was receiving mail for “David M. De”. Computers were apparently dropping off the “Backer”. So, this was the complication that my father had warned me of. Since then I have used “DeBacker”.

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