A used Vancouver 2010 Torch
Photo by s.yume (flickr)

Today is the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, and to honour the occasion I’m digging into the name Vancouver.

The we know that city of Vancouver was named after George Vancouver, the British explorer who discovered and charted it, as well as most of the North American northwest coast, but what kind of a name is Vancouver? Let’s look deeper.

According to the Vancouver Sun, Wikipedia, and the name Vancouver is of Dutch origin. You see, there’s a town called Coevorden in the Netherlands, and in 1315 a man named Reinolt was made Viscount of the city, so his name became Reinolt van Coeverden, (apparently the city name was spelled Coeverden back then). Reinolt had children, and they had children, and so on, until eventually one of his descendants, a guy named Reint Wolter van Coeverden, married an Englishwoman named Johanna Lillingston. Then, it appears, that Reint and Johanna’s son went over to England, where he continued the family line, although the family name became anglicized to “Vancouver” It appears that the son’s son, (Johanna and Reint’s grandson), may be George Vancouver, or there may be a few extra generations in there, we’re not 100% sure. So, that’s how George Vancouver got his name, but what does Coevorden mean?

It turns out that Coevorden means “cow ford” or a place where cows cross the river. Pretty simple! Interestingly enough, some other van Coeverdens that moved to England may have changed their name to Oxford, (where oxes cross the river). I’ll have to look in detail at that another time.

There is another theory, at least according to Wikipedia, that Vancouver may be an anglicized version of “van Couwen” but that’s the only reference that I’ve found, and the van Coeverden story seems to be the more accepted story. Let the games begin!