Knickerbocker Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Knickerbocker Meaning
Knickerbocker, originally Knickerbacker, was a surname that
dated back to an early Dutch settler in New York in the 1680’s.

“The name is
unique.  It seems safe to assert that
there has never been but one family of that name.  It
is evident that it was constructed out of
a combination of a family name and an individual peculiarity.  There has never been offered a rational
solution for its meaning.”

Knickerbocker was later popularized by Washington
Irving when he published his satirical A
History of New York
in 1809 under the pseudonym of Diedrich
The name then became a term for Manhattan’s
aristocracy during the 19th century.

Knickerbocker had also by the late 1850’s come to
denote a type of loose breeches gathered below the knee, evidently
because of
the resemblance of the garment to the breeches worn by the Dutchmen in
Cruikshank’s illustrations to Irving’s book.

Knickerbocker Resources on

Knickerbocker Ancestry

The Knickerbocker name
originated with a Dutchman, but did not exist in Holland.
Indeed the first bearer of the name was recorded
in New York in 1680 as
Harmen Jansen van Bommel,
Bommel being the Dutch town in North Brabant from whence he came.

America.  There is a
real and a fictional development of the Knickerbocker name in New York.

York.  Harmen Jansen’s last name
began to change when a clerk near Albany in upstate New York, for
reason (perhaps as a nickname), wrote Harmen’s last name as Kinne
Ker Backer
.  Over time this became
Knickerbacker and
appears to have superseded the van Bommel name by 1690.

Most of the Knickerbockers today have
descent from Harmen’s second son Lawrence, born in 1681, because he had
sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons.
Two of his sons – Cornelius and Benjamin – settled at Pine
Plains in Dutchess
county and many Knickerbockers were to be found there.

A more notable line was that from Harmen’s eldest son Johannes who was
born in 1679.  He had received a land
grant of some 50 acres on the south side of Schaghticoke Creek in Rensselaer county.  This Schaghticoke estate was later held:

  • by
    his son Johannes, a colonel in the Continental army during the
    War.  Johannes it was who built the
    still-standing Schaghticoke Mansion in 1780.
  • and
    by his great grandson
    Herman, a lawyer and a US Congressman from 1809 to 1811.

was a famous gentleman of the old school who – because of his courtly
and lavish
hospitality – was called “the Prince of Schaghticoke.”

Fact met fiction
when a young Washington Irving met Herman and then would describe
himself as Herman’s
cousin Diedrich Knickerbocker.  He
penned his 1809 satirical A History of New
under this name.  Because of the
book Diedrich
Knickerbocker became a much-loved character and legend in New York.
Then came The Knickerbocker, a
magazine of New York City which ran from 1833 to 1865 and was

the most influential literary publication of its time.

As a result the
Knickerbocker name came to represent the old Dutch families
of New
York and, in addition, the elite 19th century families of New York as

.  New York accounted for 75%
of all the
Knickerbockers in America in 1840, but that share was down to 35% by
1920.  The Knickerbocker name had spread.  Among those who headed West were:

  • Herman’s son David Buel who joined the church after
    leaving Schaghticoke in the 1850’s and was appointed the Episcopal
    Bishop for
    Indiana in 1883.  His cousin Richard had
    departed for Wayne county, Michigan a decade or so earlier.
  • Walter Knickerbocker
    who left Dutchess county, New York for Genesee county, Michigan in the
    1840’s.  His son John was a prominent
    watch-maker and jeweler at Flint and later at Caro.  
  • and Reuben Knickerbocker, whose family was
    originally from Dutchess county, left for Louisiana in the 1860’s and
    settled in the area of Dallas, Texas.  Reuben’s
    grandson Hubert, born there, was known as “Red” because of the color of
    hair.  He won the Pulitzer Prize for
    journalism in 1931 and was an American journalist in Europe during the
    later buildup-to-war. 

Outside of New York, Knickerbockers are mainly to be
found in Michigan,
California and Texas tofay

Knickerbocker Names

Harmen Jansen
who came to New York in the 1670’s was the
forebear of the Knickerbockers in America. 
a US Congressman in
the early 1800’s, was a courtly person who was dubbed “the Prince of
was the pen-name used by Washington Irving when he
his satirical A History of New York
in 1809.
Suzy Knickerbocker was the pen-name used by Aileen Mehle, a society
columnist syndicated to a hundred newspapers all over America

Knickerbocker Numbers Today

  • 1,800 in America (most numerous in New York)


Select Knickerbocker and Like Surnames.

These are Dutch-originated names, Dutch surnames that found their way in the 17th century to New York and to South Africa.  Here are some of the Dutch surnames that you can check out.

BeekmanHendricksKnickerbockerVan Buren



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