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Where did Denzel Dumfries get his name from – and is there any Scottish link?

Denzel Dumfries, Netherlands, Euro 2020
(Image credit: Photo by Christopher Lee - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

He has grabbed the attention at Euro 2020 with his dazzling displays for the Netherlands from right wing-back, but the big question is: Where does Denzel Dumfries get his name from? 

Let’s get the easy bit out of the way first: he was named after Denzel Washington, the multiple Oscar-winning actor. But what about the Dumfries bit, which has understandably caused some interest in Britain?

Dumfries is a market town in southwest Scotland, home – or indeed “doon hame”, as the locals would have it – to almost 50,000, some of whom are followers of the local team Queen of the South. (While we’re here, that name came from local poet David Dunbar, who called the town that while standing in the 1857 general election. He lost, but the phrase stuck; it’s the only professional UK football team namechecked by Jesus in the Bible.)

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But how did a Dutchman end up being called Dumfries? Well, we’re getting there. Denzel’s father, Boris Dumfries, originates from Aruba – a 20-mile long Caribbean island, just off the top of South America.

Aruba was colonised initially by the Spanish (it was “discovered” by Amerigo Vespucci, after whom the Americas are named) and briefly by the British but, for the most part, by the Dutch. It is still part of the family: Aruba is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

OK, but why would someone in a Dutch dependency have such a Scottish surname? Turns out Dumfries is not a particularly unusual name in Aruba: online genealogy resource lists the island as having the world’s highest prevalence of the surname.

Indeed, Siegfried Dumfries is the director of the Aruban government’s Department of Culture, while Samuel Dumfries advises the Environment Ministry. And in 2014, Aruba-born Morris Dumfries persuaded his new Dutch wife Cherylle to honeymoon in the Scottish town. (He loved it – “The people have been so friendly” – but her reaction is not recorded.)

The Scots and the Dutch

Forget Archie Gemmill's goal in 1978, or indeed Patrick Kluivert's in 1996: the link between Scotland and the Netherlands is centuries old, initially forged through commerce and education and later by religion and war. Persecuted minorities of either Catholic or Protestant faith, perhaps skirting around an England controlled by the other lot, would flee to a safe haven across the North Sea.

From the late 1500s to the late 1700s, the Scots Brigade fought in the Netherlands on behalf of the Dutch Republic, striving to disentangle itself from occupation by the Spanish Habsburgs and, later, Napoleonic France. By 1700 around a thousand Scots lived in Rotterdam, with many others elsewhere.

This influx of Scottishness is reflected in names like Roy Makaay, the former Dutch international whose surname is an altered version of the Scots Mackay. Something akin to the reverse is true with the popular Scots surname Fleming, which indicates a long-ago arrival from the Flemish lands.

From there, it’s easy to see how the name Dumfries can be transported, via the Dutch diaspora, to the other side of the world through colonialisation and emigration. All surnames come from somewhere, often distant in time and space: it just so happens that Dumfries’s comes from somewhere that Brits recognise from the map.

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