For those unfamiliar with “dit” names, the article below will explain what they are and why they are so important to understand when conducting French Canadian genealogical research.
“dit” Names etc.
Rita Elise Plourde
There are two reasons why there are so many variant spellings of some names.
First, most of the citizens of the 1600-1800 were illiterate. Of these, a precious few could sign their names. However, the priests, seminarians, missionaries, monks and nuns were the most educated groups in the citizenry. Only an elite few were educated beyond what we, today, would consider a basic elementary education.
Consequently, many of the clerics and notaries, who under the French system of administration were charged with recording “vital statistics” wrote the names as they knew them to be in France, as a precious few of the immigrants/colonists signed them, or as they heard them (phonetically).
That is why one sees Garau, Garrault, Gareau,Garo, etc… even amongst the sons of a particular ancestor. A good example are the descendants of Louis Houde…some of the variant spellings found are: Houd, Houle, Ould, Houde, Hood, etc.
Second, as the colonists migrated within Nouvelle France/New France and eventually beyond the areas of French-speaking Canada (to current-day USA, the Caribbean, the West Indies, etc.) recorders of “vital statistics” who were not French speakers, usually spelled names phonetically, or changed them because they didn’t have a clue how to write them.
For example, Rochefort became Rushfort in the Carolinas, Champagne became Shampang, Thibodeaux became Thibodo, or Tibodo. LeBrun was changed to Brown and Leblanc to White, and so forth.
The “dit” names have an interesting origin. The English translation of “dit” is “said”. The Colonists of Nouvelle France added “dit” names as distinguishers. A settler might have wanted to differentiate their family from their siblings by taking a “dit” name that described the locale to which they had relocated ( ex: since the Colonists followed the customs of the French feudal system, land was divided amongst the first born sons [primogeniture] . Soon there was not enough land to divide any further.
Perhaps an adventurous younger son would decide to establish himself, with or without a family, in another area… say a fertile piece of land near some streams… he might add des ruisseaux (streams/creeks/rivulets) to distinguish himself from his brothers. When he married,or died, his name might be listed as Houde dit DesRuisseaux, or Desruisseau(s).
The acquiring of a “dit” name might also be the result of a casual adoption, whereby the person wanted to honor the family who had raised them. Another reason was also to distinguish themselves by taking as a “dit” name the town or village in France from which they originated… ex: Huret dit Rochefort.
Rita Elise Plourde is a member of AFGS and is a bilingually educated Franco-American anthropologist, who was raised in a multicultural environment. Rita continues to explore, examine and extol the culture of her French/Acadian/Quebecois ancestors & contemporary relatives.