French Canadian Surname Mutations in the United States


If you are from the United States and are looking for French Canadian ancestors, you know for sure how difficult it can be to find them.

You probably heard about "dit" names—my colleague Suzanne will discuss these in a future post—but besides that, something else can be fairly challenging, and that is the mutation of French Canadian surnames in the United States.

I have encountered many cases where people had no clue that a French Canadian was actually in their tree. Often barely two or three generations back, and they had no idea that this Jane Wood was in fact Geneviève Dubois. Or they were stunned to learn that Nelson Little went by the name of Narcisse Petit north of the border.

I am doing quite extensive research in Vermont records and I have come across some interesting surnames' variations! If the literal translation from the French might appear easy to figure out—I cannot help thinking of Shortsleeve, for Courtemanche—some others are not that obvious. Just think of German: might be either for Lallemand or Saint-Germain.

Sometimes, I just need to say it out loud to tell what the French Canadian name might be. I am thinking of Browshaw, for Branchaud; Gorrow, for Gareau; Sears, for Cyr; or Tromblei, for Tremblay. In these cases, the surnames were not translated but rather anglicized. But when I read Fosha, I quickly thought of Foucher while it was for Forcier (which I ended up with after intensive work). And what about the Blanchettes who decided to use Blanchard instead?

Others may seem straightforward like Rock. Oh, yes, it must be for Laroche or Larocque! No, Desrochers or Durocher… wait, what about Lapierre? The same pattern occurs for the name Stone. You are typically up for many hours of research.

Some surname variations simply cannot be explained. How did Arpajou became Parish? And what about Daniels used for Beauchemin? Without the parish repertoires from Vermont, I would be at a loss!

Finally, my favourites are, and by far, John "French" and Martin "Frenchman". Great idea, guys! Thanks for the help!

Are you sure, you do not have French Canadian ancestors? If you have hit a brick wall in the Northeastern States, or even in Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin or Michigan, there is a real possibility. As you can see, you need to think outside the box if you hope to find that needle in the haystack.