Tag Archives: names

What’s with the name?

More than one person has asked me why I called the book Die a Dry Death. Why not “The Wreck of the Batavia” or something equally prosaic?

For a start, Batavia means a few different things; the Roman occupied area which eventually became part of the Netherlands, the capital of the Dutch East Indies which is now called Jakarta and the famous, doomed ship. Then again, in my novel the story starts with the shipwreck and moves on from there. Very little of the action actually takes place on the ship itself.

But then, what to call it? ‘Die a dry death’ is a quote from Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tempest’.

Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground, long heath, brown furze, any thing. The wills above be done! but I would fain die a dry death.

It seemed so very appropriate. You can imagine people on a doomed ship praying for a piece of land – any land. They don’t want to drown, they want to die a dry death. And as it happens, for many of them that’s exactly what occurred. I suppose we’ll never really know for certain who died how on this fateful voyage. Pelsaert himself estimated seventy people died when she ship was wrecked. Some were flung into the sea, others flung themselves in their attempts to escape the stricken ship. In any event, round about one hundred and eighty souls made it to Batavia’s Graveyard, the scrap of land now called Beacon Island. Of those, Pelsaert calculated that Cornelisz and his henchmen murdered near on one hundred people.

So the title is apropos and also sadly ironic.

To Die a Dry Death? I switched publishers and produced the e-book under a slightly different name. It’s the same novel, but it has an addendum explaining the background to the book and the reasoning behind my slightly different interpretation of some of the evidence.

Why are seventeenth century names so difficult?

TDADD-ebook-webMy historical novel “To Die a Dry Death” was recently reviewed by Kimberly Maloney on her blog Historical Fiction Obsession. While Kimberly rated the novel a five star read and had lots of nice things to say, she said she struggled a little with the unusual names, like Jacobsz and Bastiaenz, so herewith an explanation.

In the seventeenth century people didn’t have surnames. ‘John the baker’ or ‘James the smith’ was quite enough to differentiate. If you had a bunch of sailors, though, you might need something else. So we had ‘John, Peter’s son’ or John, James’s son’. This is the derivation of surnames like ‘Peterson’ and ‘Jameson’. Or you might use where someone came from to identify an individual, for example ‘Peter from London’.

In Holland, it was the same. The letters ‘sz’ at the end of the names denoted ‘szoon’ (the Dutch for son). The letters ‘van’ or ‘van der’ in front of a name mean ‘from’ and ‘from the’ and according to Mike Dash in his book ‘Batavia’s Graveyard’, this indicated someone with property.

I must agree that without surnames, it’s difficult to follow ancestry. Take the predikant (preacher) in this story, Gijsbert Bastiaensz. He had seven children, all of whom would have had ‘Gijsbertsz’ as a ‘surname’. Yes, even the daughters, although the word for daughter is ‘dochter’. One of the predikant’s sons was also called Gijsbert. He would have been referred to as Gijsbert Gijsbertsz.

One problem I had with names in my story was that, unlike in our times, where people’s first names are thought up willy-nilly, in the past there was a relatively restricted list of names that parents could use. ‘Jacob’ was a very common name. Kimberly had a short struggle differentiating between Adriaen Jacobsz, the captain of the Batavia and Jacopsz, the captain of the Sardam. In fact, the name of the captain of the Sardam was Jacob Jacobsz. My beta readers complained about that so I changed the spelling to a pretty common derivation of Jacobsz – Jacopsz. Maybe I should have changed the name completely but although this is fiction, I’m writing about people who lived and died. Somewhere out there in the Indian Ocean, Jacob Jacobsz assuredly lost his life. I felt I owed him that much.