The preferred spelling of my last name is VanHoudnos. The V is capitalized, the H is capitalized and there is no space between them. It is pronounced van-HOD-ness.
When my great-grandfather came to Nebraska from Belgium, he changed his last name from Van Houwenhuyse to VanHoudenos. No one in the family quite knows why he made the change, but there it is. My guess is that he wanted to break with the old world, so he adopted what he thought was a more American version of the name. Perhaps he chose to eliminate the space because it was confusing to Americans. I could imagine something like this happening: "Hey Peter, why do you always say your middle name? Wouldn't it be simpler to introduce yourself as Peter Houdenos?"
At some point before my father was born, my grandfather dropped the e from VanHoudenos to become VanHoudnos. No one quite knows why grandpa did that. His brother, for example, did not, so there is a whole branch of our family tree that retains the VanHoudenos spelling. Unfortunately, we never got a chance to ask grandpa why he changed the spelling because he died when my father was young. In any case, my father kept the spelling as VanHoudnos.
In a sense, I could reasonably be referred to as
- Nathan Van Houwenhuyse, if I were to retain the original Flemish spelling. Note that the V is capitalized because that's just the way Flemish surnames are spelled;
- Nathan VanHoudenos, if I were to adopt my great-grandfather's Americanized spelling; or
- Nathan VanHoudnos, which is how I prefer to be known because it is the name my parents chose to give me.
The irregular nature of my last name can cause confusion. I have seen the following alternate spellings in the wild:
- Nathan Vanhoudnos among those who think its weird to have a capital letter in the middle of your last name;
- Nathan van Houdnos among those who are familiar with non-Flemish Dutch last names; and
- Nathan Van Houdnos among those familiar with Flemish last names.
In any case, I prefer Nathan VanHoudnos. It may be irregular, but it is what it is.