One of the more unexpected difficulties I’ve encountered in researching Dutch-Paris has to do with people’s names.

I knew, of course, that it would be difficult to uncover the names of all the members of the line in the first place. Resisters hid their identities; so well that some of them still count as missing persons today because their friends and colleagues who survived didn’t know their true names to report an arrest or death to the family.

But most people did know at least their immediate colleagues’ names, either because they had known them before the war or because they had revealed their true identities to each other afterwards. So in their postwar reports they mention their fellow “illegal workers” by name and, very considerately from my perspective, mention their own noms de guerre.

It is possible, then, to gather up all these names into a semblance of a who’s who of Dutch-Paris. With that, you can go into more archives. Whether it’s the Swiss border patrol or the French or Belgian ministry charged with postwar pensions, many of the relevant archives consist of personal files arranged alphabetically. You have to know the names of the people concerned to find the information.

But it turns out that the same name can be spelled in many different ways, which makes sense in hindsight. Normally, you’d know how to spell someone’s name because you’d see it written on a name plate or an envelope or letter. But you didn’t send a letter in your own name to another resister and you weren’t likely to receive them at your home or office.

So you’d spell your colleague’s name phonetically. But the way a Frenchman hears a Dutch name is not the same as the way a Dutchman spells a Dutch name, and vice versa. And the Americans just did the best they could, which was usually wrong.

The person whose name is most often spelled correctly is John Henry Weidner, as you’d expect for the Chief, whose name appeared in the newspaper and on a great deal of correspondence after the war. But even so, he sometimes appears as Weitner.

Then there’s the case of Benno Nijkerk, often spelled Nykerk. That’s an understandable enough variation as the Dutch themselves occasionally typed “ij” as “y”. But in some archives he’s under Nieuwkerk. Furthermore, in the German records he’s Bernard Smit, because that’s the false ID he had with him when he was arrested. He declined to correct their error regarding his identity. He can also be found as Marcel, because that’s the name he was using among resisters in Paris before his arrest. As he never returned from the concentration camps, they never found out his real name.

Then there’s a Roumanian named, take your pick, Mincowski, Mincóvschi, Mincowschi or Nincovschi. His friends weren’t even sure if his alias was Mermillot or Mermillod. Of course, a variation in the last letter of a name isn’t worth mentioning. An uncertainty about the first letter of a name, though, presents a difficulty.

Fortunately I’ve had the help of some archivists who are a lot better at guessing how a French or Dutch person would misspell a name than I am, for which I thank them. But I can’t shake the feeling that there’s an important dossier sitting unread in an archive because someone misspelled someone else’s name.