The Dutch surname of DEWITTE was derived from the Old English word Hwit - a nickname for one with white hair and a pale complexion. Surnames having a derivation from nicknames form the broadest and most miscellaneous class of surnames, encompassing many different types of origin. The most typical classes refer adjectivally to the general physical aspect of the person concerned, or to his character. Many nicknames refer to a man's size or height, while others make reference to a favoured article of clothing or style of dress. Many surnames derived from the names of animals and birds. In the Middle Ages ideas were held about the characters of other living creatures, based on observation, and these associations were reflected and reinforced by large bodies of folk tales featuring animals behaving as humans.
A notable member of the name was Jan DE WITT (1625-72) the Dutch statesman, born in Dort, the son of Jacob de Witt, a vehement opponent of William II, Prince of Orange. Jan was one of the deputies sent by the States of Holland in 1652 to Zeeland, to dissuade that province from adopting an Orange policy. In 1653 he was made grand pensionary. After the restoration of Charles II, De WITT leaned to the side of France. The Dutch language is most closely related to Low German, and its surnames have been influenced both by German and French naming practices. The preposition 'van' is found especially with habitation names, and the 'de' mainly with nicknames. Surnames as we know them today were first assumed in Europe from the 11th to the 15th Century. The employment in the use of a second name was a custom that was first introduced from the Normans. They themselves had not long before adopted them. It became, in course of time, a mark of gentler blood, and it was deemed a disgrace for gentlemen to have but one single name, as the meaner sort had. At first the coat of arms was a practical matter which served a function on the battlefield and in tournaments. With his helmet covering his face, and armour encasing the knight from head to foot, the only means of identification for his followers, was the insignia painted on his shield and embroidered on his surcoat, the flowing and draped garment worn over the armour.
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