Why Is Rembrandt Known By His First Name?

Like many other great artists, such as Michelangelo, Titian, and Raphael, Rembrandt is known by only his first name.

We are not sure why Rembrandt is known by only his first name, but from 1633 until he died in 1669, he signed his art as “Rembrandt.” Before this, he had several other ways that he signed his art. Rembrandt is not a very common Dutch name and is a name that was changed from Rembrandt to Rembrandt.

About The Name Rembrandt

Rembrandt is not a very common first name; similar Dutch names would be Remmert or Gerbrand. Rembrandt is not and never has been a common Dutch first name, but it is now a well-known name thanks to Rembrandt and his fame as an artist.

Self Portrait of Rembrandt

Rembrandt’s actual first name was Rembrant. His full legal name is Rembrant Harmenszoon van Rijin. The name would be defined as follows:

  • Rembrandt or Rembrant is his first name; this is not a very common Dutch first name.
  • Harmenszoon – The name Harmenszoon means “son of Harmen.”
  • van Rijin – The name van Rijin means the family lived by the Rhine.

The name Rembrandt is an Ancient German name coming from the name Ragemprand. The name has two elements and meanings, Ragem, which means to advise or decide, plus the name” brant,” which means sword.

Throughout his artistic career, Rembrandt would sign his paintings and artwork in various ways.

Why Rembrandt Only Used One Name

Rembrandt started to sign his name as Rembrandt from 1633 onward until his death. From a very early time, he used only his first name on his works of art.

Self Portrait of Rembrandt

In 1633, he also changed his name from Rembrant to Rembrandt with a silent “d.” We are not sure why he signed his name as only one name but here are some possible reasons,

  • Many artists signed their art with just one name before Rembrandt did. Here are some other artists who also used only their first name:
    • Michelangelo (1475 – 1574) – Full name is Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni
    • Titian (1488- 1576 ) -Full name is Tiziano Vecellio.
    • Raphael (1483 – 1520) – Full name is Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino.
  • It could be he felt his name was just too long. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is a long name for any artist.
  • It was the best name to use from all his names. Neither Harmenszoon nor van Rijin would have made as much sense as Rembrandt.
  • Some historians have felt he signed his name as just one name like other great artists such as Michelangelo, Titian, and Raphael, as he wanted to show that he was equal to these other great artists.

We have no definitive answer as to why he chose to sign his name as Rembrandt. Before 1633 we know that he used many different ways to sign his art before this time but eventually settled on just Rembrandt for all his paintings.

Ways Rembrandt Signed His Name

Self Portrait of Rembrandt

Rembrandt signed his paintings in many different ways until he finally settled on using Rembrandt as his signature. Here are the significant ways and dates that Rembrandt signed his art:

  • 1625 – R or RH – His earliest signature consisted of just a simple” R” or “RH,” which stands for Rembrandt Harmenszoon
  • 1629 – RHL – In 1629, we see the signature as RHL, which stands for Rembrandt Harmenszoon of Leiden; we assume the L stands for Leidenis or Leiden, which was the town where he was born.
  • 1632 – RHL van Rijin – In later 1632, he used the signature RHL van Rijin and added his last name, van Rijin to the signature.
  • Later 1632 – He started to sign his artwork with the name Rembrant.
  • 1633 – Rembrandt – In 1633, he added the silent “d” to his name. He used this signature until he died in 1669.

The change of Rembrandt’s name from Rembrant to Rembrandt was purely a visual change and a change of spelling. It did not change the way his name was pronounced.

What is also interesting is that Rembrandt seems to have been more of an artistic name; in all the legal documents that mentioned him during his lifetime, the spelling of his first name was always Rembrant and not Rembrandt. So adding the “d” to his name seems to have been more of a visual and artistic choice than a legal one.

We know that all these signatures must have had some significance because he used them at specific times of his life. In 1633 he changed his name to include the” d” as Rembrandt, which must have had a real significance to him as he used it until his death.

We do not know why Rembrandt was known by his first name or why he signed his paintings as Rembrandt but still used his legal name as Rembrant. But we know that using only a first name was a common practice for many artists.

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Anita Louise Hummel

Hi, I am Anita Louise Hummel. I am an artist and a blogger. I paint mainly oil paints. I love to paint women, animals (mainly dogs and cats), and abstracts. I use a lot of gold and silver leaf in my paintings. I also love to blog about anything to do with art, business, Procreate, and all the wonderful artists that inspire me.

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Why Is Rembrandt Known By His First Name?