“Dit” Names: And What If Your Surname Was Not the Original One?

Your surname is Languedoc, Sanschagrin, Laframboise or Saint-Jean? There is a good chance your ancestor's name was completely different.

In Québec, a lot of people do not share their surname with their ancestor. They are rather known by their ancestor's or one of his descendants' "dit" name. Some pioneers' surnames are actually not used anymore, having been replaced by the "dit" name associated therewith.

Much of these "dit" names were borne by militaries which then represent the third most important group of immigrants after the "engagés" and the King's Daughters (or Filles du roi). In the army, each recruit was given a nickname by an officer. The soldiers who settled in Canada, a colony of New France at the time, were mostly from the Carignan-Salières Regiment which came in 1665, from the Compagnies franches de la Marine which were responsible for the colony's protection as early as 1683, as well as infantry's regiments who came to fight the British during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763).

For other families, "dit" names appeared later on in order to distinguish the different branches. Hence, descendants of the Lefebvre family of Baie-du-Febvre also bear the name Descôteaux, Labbé or Laciseraie. As for Paul Hus' descendants, they had for a surname Beauchemin, Capistran, Cournoyer, Latraverse, Lemoine, Millet, Paul, Paulet, or even Paulhus. Be careful though, those with the "dit" name Lemoine are not all descendants of Paul Hus and those named Laframboise do not have all the same ancestor.

It is not easy to explain why a specific surname was given to an ancestor. In a few cases, the "dit" name comes from the pioneers' wife maiden name, such as Bélisle dit Levasseur, Lemire dit Marsolet and Morand dit Grimard. In other cases, it is a contraction of the first name and of the surname: Castonguay (Gaston Guay), Louiseize (Louis Seize) or Paulhus (Paul Hus). For seigniorial families, the "dit" name represents the fief or the seigniory's name: Boucher of Montbrun or Noël of Tilly.

The most common "dit" names often simply derive from the ancestor's first name: Germain Gauthier dit St-Germain. The "dit" name may also reveal more or less precisely the origin of an ancestor like L'allemand (translation: from Germany), Langevin (from Anjou), Lyonnais (from Lyon) or Montauban. The "dit" name could tell you about your ancestor's occupation like Lalancette, for a surgeon, or Lalime, for a founder or a locksmith. Wondering what your ancestor looked or was like? Legros (large), Latendresse (gentleness), Sansregret (no regret), Lespérance (hope). In the army, "dit" names were often a flower or plant name such as Latulipe (tulip), Larose (rose), Lafleur (flower), and so on.

To conclude, what about some funny nicknames from our military ancestors? Baisela (sorry, this one will be translated as "xxx"), Vivelamour (viva love), Prêtàboire (ready to drink), Vadeboncoeur (goes with a happy heart), Tranchemontagne (mountain splitter), Passepartout (goes anywhere or master key) or Laterreur (terror).

Sources:
Jetté, René et Micheline Lécuyer. Répertoire des noms de famille du Québec des origines à 1825, éd. SGCF, Montréal, 201 p.

Jetté, René. Traité de généalogie, Les Presses de l'Université de Montréal, Montréal, 1991. 716 p. (out-of-print)