The Name Game Part Two: Dit Names

Many family historians with French ancestry hit brick walls when researching their genealogy because of “dit” names. A dit name can be thought of as an embellished surname that the ancestor is known by. The original surname may be modified or replaced overtime by a dit name, so as you can imagine, this can make it difficult to find your ancestors in genealogical materials. For example: Jacques Bruneau becomes Jacques Bruneau dit St. Anne. Some generations later, Jacques’ descendant, Marguerite, decided to simplify the surname and settled for “St. Anne” as her surname.

Since the records may not mention the dit name you may find yourself stuck! Envisage yourself searching for Marguerite St Anne, yet most of her records state her name as “Marguerite Bruneau!” The dit name may not appear in the documents. On the other hand, the dit name may be in some of the documents, but whoever indexed the documents on the website you are searching did not index the dit name, so when you search you do not find it.

To make the genealogical puzzle more confusing, a given surname such as “Samson” may have multiple dit names attached to it. Siblings may have each adopted a different dit names to avoid confusion among their family branches. Conversely, the use of the same dit name does not necessarily imply a genetic relationship. Rene Boudrot dit Alunay may have no genetic relationship to Evangeline Marchand dit Alunay. To pile on the confusion, a dit name in French may be changed into the equivalent language of where a family member emigrated to. For example, the surname “Chagnon dit forêt” may become the surname “Forest” in an English speaking country.

Dit names seem to have come into usage in the the late 1500’s. Though a French custom, the use of dit names can be found in other European countries. One reason being was the fleeing of the Huguenots from France, mainly to the Netherlands and from there on to the “New World” and even as far away as South Africa. France also colonized many countries spreading around the use of dit names. The Grand d’Arrangement forced Acadians from Canada and many wound up in the United States.

Reasons for the use of Dit Names

Dit names were used for a variety of reasons. For example, dit names may be used to:

  • identify a place of origin or land occupied by an      ancestor
  • distinguish between parents and children that have the      same name
  • provide a “warrior” name in times of battle (nom de guerre)
  • describe a physical characteristic
  • pay respect to a mentor
  • honor a      religious figure

Dit names can make your genealogy search time consuming and even difficult to carry out as your family line seems to suddenly come to an end. The links below may help up you get around the dit name hurdles. They provide general information about dit names, some list common dit names and the surnames they are associated with, and some of the sites may have other information about French naming practices and French family history. If you find you cannot get around the hurdle, Record Click has a professional genealogist who is experienced in French, Franco-American, Acadian, French-Canadian, and Cajun genealogy who can help you with your family tree.

Dit Names Links

American-French Genealogical Society

http://www.afgs.org/termphra.html

The Dits Names

http://www.francogene.com/quebec/ditnames.php

Understanding Dit Names

http://genealogy.about.com/b/2010/07/08/understanding-dit-names.htm

French Dit Names

http://www.genealogyforum.com/gfaol/resource/Canada/dit.htm

French Dit names and other French naming Variations.

http://www.afgs.org/ditnames/index1.html

Acadian Names and Dit Names

http://www.eogen.com/AcadianDitNames

Acadian Family Home

http://www.acadian-home.org/names-acadian.html

French Names in the 1850 US Census of Aroostook County, Maine

http://www.upperstjohn.com/1850/frenchnames.htm

General information on first and last French names from the University of Montréal

http://www.genealogie.umontreal.ca/en/nomsPrenoms.htm

Acadian-Cajun Surnames

http://www.acadian-cajun.com/surnamr.htm

List of French Genealogy and Family History Links

http://genealogy.about.com/od/france/French_Genealogy_Family_History.htm

For help locating your French ancestry, speak to one of our professional genealogists today!

3 Comments

  • Wow, very interesting. I had no idea. It might explain my mother’s family name, Juliard. Also note I read somewhere that in 1812/1813 Napoleon forced Jews in his empire to register last names. Previously they used the tribal caste names, Levi, Cohen and Israel and then would use a semi-surname of their father’s first name prefixed with Ben. An example might be David Ben-Gurion Levi changed to David Rosenburg. The Jews often chose joke “ornamental” last names but apparently had informal last names sometimes as well were formalized by the Napoleonic process. Perhaps many of these names in France therefore were dit names already associated with Jewish families.

    • Thank you Paul for sharing this information with us. This is very interesting and I know would be of interest to those research Jewish genealogy. Kim just wrote a blog on that recently too. You can see it listed as “Tracing your Jewish family tree” on the blog roll.

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