Vanderbilt Surname Meaning and Origin

Vanderbilt is thought to derive from a German word meaning "low hill," such as these rolling hills in the German Kaiserstuhl area.
Dennis Fischer Photography / Getty Images

The Vanderbilt surname has two very different accepted origins:

  1. a topographic surname for someone living near a low hill, from the Middle Low German bulte, meaning "mound" or "low hill."
  2. originally Van de Bylt, from Die Byltye, a nickname given to ship-carpenters in Holland. From the Dutch byltye, meaning a little hatchet or bill.

Surname Origin: Dutch, North German


Where in the World is the Vanderbilt Surname Found?

While it originated in the Netherlands, the Vanderbilt surname is now most prevalent in the United States, according to surname distribution data from Forebears. However, it is also somewhat common in Chile and Columbia. The name was more common in the United States during the 1880s than it is now, especially in the states of New York and New Jersey.

The Vanderbilt surname is now most common based on the percentage in the U.S. states of Alaska, Arkansas, New Jersey, Illinois, and Connecticut, according to WorldNames PublicProfiler.

Famous People with the Last Name Vanderbilt

  • Cornelius Vanderbilt: head of the prominent American Vanderbilt family; became the wealthiest man in America in the mid-19th century through his shipping and railroad empires
  • Amy Vanderbilt: American authority on etiquette
  • Gloria Vanderbilt: American artist, author, actress, and heiress, well known for her line of designer blue jeans from the 1970s and 80s.
  • George Washington Vanderbilt, II: member of the prominent Vanderbilt family who commissioned the construction of Biltmore between 1889 and 1895; the estate's name derived from "Bildt," the origin of his Vanderbilt ancestors in Holland.

The Famous Vanderbilt Family

The prominent American Vanderbilt empire began with Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt, born in Staten Island in 1794. His 3rd-great grandfather, Jan Aertszoon (1620–1705), a Dutch farmer from the village of De Bilt in Utrecht, Netherlands, was the immigrant ancestor, arriving in the Dutch Colony of New Netherland as an indentured servant in 1650.

When he was sixteen, Cornelius, the fourth of nine children, convinced his parents to lend him $100 to purchase a sailboat so that he could start his own passenger and freight service between Staten Island and New York City, a service that eventually became known as the famous Staten Island Ferry. Young Cornelius then signed on as an apprentice on a variety of ships in order to master all aspects of the seagoing industry. By the age of 50, his shipping empire had afforded him millionaire status. He then turned to buy up small railroads and turning them into profitable ventures. At the time of his death in 1877, Cornelius Vanderbilt was worth $105 million.

Anderson Cooper, son of Gloria Laura Vanderbilt, is currently the only known prominent, active descendant of the famous Vanderbilt family.

Genealogy Resources for the Surname Vanderbilt

  • Vanderbilt Family Genealogy: My Fascination with All Things Vanderbilt
    Taneya Koonce, who fell in love with the Vanderbilt family after visiting the Biltmore estate for the first time, has built a comprehensive family tree of the Vanderbilt family, and also links to other Vanderbilt resources.
  • Most Common Dutch Surnames and their Meanings
    De Jong, Jansen, De Vries... Are you one of the millions of individuals of Dutch ancestry sporting one of these top common last names from the Netherlands? 
  • Vanderbilt Family Crest: It's Not What You Think
    Contrary to what you may hear, there is no such thing as a Vanderbilt family crest or coat of arms for the Vanderbilt surname. Coats of arms are granted to individuals, not families, and may rightfully be used only by the uninterrupted male line descendants of the person to whom the coat of arms was originally granted.
  • FamilySearch: VANDERBILT Genealogy
    Explore over 400,000 historical records and lineage-linked family trees posted for the Vanderbilt surname and its variations on the free FamilySearch website, hosted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


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