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City of Blerick

Blerick is a city in the Dutch province of Limburg Netherlands. It lies on the west bank of the River Meuse (Maas) and its origin goes back to the Roman era as a military stronghold and settlement. Blerick can be found on the Peutinger Tabel (a map showing the road network of the Roman Empire) as Blariacum. Blariacum means ‘belongs to Blarius’. Blarius is derived from the celtic word ‘Blaros’, which means ‘gray’ or ‘gray-headed’, and it is generally accepted, but not proved, that Blarius was the first owner or lord of the settlement Blariacum.

A part of the Peutinger Tabel

Up till the Second World War Blerick formed one municipality together with Baarlo and Maasbree but under German rule Blerick became part of the municipality of Venlo. The closest major cities to Blerick and Venlo are Eindhoven – Netherlands 42 km to the west, and Dusseldorf – Germany 42 km to the east.


A Map of the Netherlands with the province of Limburg and town Blerick

Venlo’s history also dates back to Roman times. It developed into an important trade post on the River Meuse and received city rights in 1343, granted by the Duke of Gelderland. Because of its strategic importance, the city of Venlo was besieged several times. The most significant siege was that of 1702, carried out by Menno van Coehoom (a Dutch soldier and military engineer of Swedish extraction). Consequently, Venlo was incorporated into the Generaliteitslanden of the United Provinces and later became part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

On November 9, 1939, two British intelligence agents were kidnapped by the Sicherheitsdienst, the intelligence service of the SS, in what became known as the Venlo Incident. The incident was used by the Nazis to link Great Britain to Georg Elser’s failed assassination of Hitler at the Burgerbraukeller two days before and used it to justify their invasion of the Netherlands, a neutral country, on 10 May 1940.

Because Venlo had both a road and rail bridges over the River Meuse the city was severely damaged during 13 bomb raids (13 October – 19 November 1944). About 300 people were killed due to those raids. The raids also cost Venlo a major part of its historical buildings. However, some medieval buildings, such as the city hall (the ‘stadhuis’) and the ‘Rőmer’ house, survived the war.

The origin of the surname van Blerk:

Before record keeping began, most people had only one name such as John. As the population increased it became necessary to distinguish between individuals with the same name. The problem was usually solved by adding descriptive information. John became John the smith, John the son of Matthew, John the short, or John from Maurik. At first, “surnames” applied only to one person, not to the whole family. After a few generations these names became hereditary and were passed on from generation to generation.

Surnames developed from four major sources:

     Patronymic: – based on a parent’s name, such as Aarjen Hendrickszoon (son of Hendrick).

     Occupational: – based on the person’s trade, such as Bernardus Schoenmaker (shoemaker).

     Descriptive or nickname: – based on a unique quality of the person, such as Gerrit Zwarthooft (black head).

     Geographical or location: – based on a person’s residence, such as Johannes van der Velde (from the field) or in our case Nicolaas van Blerk (from the town Blerick)

Surnames were first used by the nobility and wealthy land owners. Later the custom was followed by merchants and townspeople and eventually by the rural population. This process took two or three centuries. For the most part the practice was well established in the Netherlands by the 1700s.


By Clifford van Blerk

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