change date is at the bottom of each page.
|The DIT Dilemna!|
Many researchers with French-Canadian ancestors
are often confused or stopped in their research by the ever-present
usage of what is called a "dit"
There are a number of websites that deal with the issue
and I don't want to try to reinvent the wheel. Here is
a brief explanation AND a list of sites I have found that
deal more directly and more specifically with the matter
|What are dit names?
A "dit name
is an alias given to a family name. Compared to other alias
or a.k.a. that are given to one specific person, the "dit
names will be given to many persons.
One thing that can make it difficult to find your ancestor
is that he or she may have been using a different surname
from the one that you expect. You will need to make yourself
aware of any "dit"
names that might be associated with the surname you're
tracing, and if you can't find someone under the name
of his child, you may find him under the "dit"
name. "Dit" in French
means "say" and in this context, it means "called." In
other words, a person might be Antoine Pépin dit Lachance,
which means that he had an ancestor named Pépin, but he
chooses to use the name Lachance instead. So he is Antoine
Pépin called Lachance.
Some surnames, such as Roy, have had several different
You should be aware that usually a different "dit"
name indicates a different family. For example, Siméon
Roy dit Audy and Antoine Roy dit Desjardins
were not related to each other. The same is true for
Pépin dit Lachance and Caillot dit Lachance
- they are not related families.
|Reasons for DIT Names
Among some reasons we find "dit
- Surname used in the army (can also be combined with
- Place of origin (Breton, Langlois, Langevin, etc.)
- Land owned or inhabited by an ancestor (Beauregard
is an example)
- The full name of the ancestor (Gaston Guay -> Gastonguay
- The first name of an ancestor (Vincent, Robert, etc.)
- Keeping the original name (in local language) during
the process of standardizing names to French
|Cadillacs Village by
A copy of the explanation from an old
book called Cadillac's Village by C.M. Burton appears on
this site. Click on the name to get there.
Here is a list of other
sites that explain "Dit" names. Some of what is written
on my page is taken directly from these pages.
by C.M. Burton
1) The early colonists of Lower Canada obtained
from the French government grants of extensive tracks
of land. These grants were executed in the medieval
phraseology used under the feudal system of holding
estate. The settlers assuming a resemblance between
their holdings and the domains of the French barons
and "seigneurs", called their large, wild farms
by certain titles, and affixed the same to their
own family names, in imitation of the European nobility.
In some cases these titles were confirmed by the
government. The owners of these vast estates considered
themselves "seigneurs" of their new country, and
were very proud of the affixes to their names. In
business transactions these additions to their signatures
were used with all their flourishes. At baptisms
the title had to be entered in the parish registers;
at marriages the affix to the old family name sounded
high both for the bride and groom in the verbose
marriage contract; respectability was increased
by the presence of many witnesses with titled names.
In this manner the owners of large estates in Lower
Canada, at a certain period of the seventeenth century,
looked upon themselves and upon each other as quasi-nobility.
Their children naturally assumed those titles and
often thought more of the affixes than of their
own family names. Feudalism was about dead, and
fast dying in Europe in those days, and therefore
could not gain foothold in America. In the eighteenth
century we do not find new titles originating; still
the old ones remained.
The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these titled pioneers often discarded the old family name and were known only by the new title. Hence, the new names that the genealogist has to contend with. As an illustration, take the Trotier family. The Trotiers of America all descend from Julius Trotier, born in 1590, in the parish of St. Martin, in the town of Ige, in the province of Perche, France. He, seemingly a common citizen, came with his family to Canada about the year 1645. His children married in Canada, and in the course of time, had large families. They obtained extensive estates and were very lavish in originating titles for the same. In a few years we find Trotier Sieur des Ruisseaux, Trotier Seigneur de L'Isle Perrot, Trotier Sieur de Beaubien. Many of these Trotiers gradually dropped the family name and signed only the assumed title. Hence, we have the families of Beaubien, Desruisseaux, etc. All these trace to a common ancestor Julius Trotier.
2) Another cause of the change of French names was the
custom so prevalent in former times, of nicknaming themselves and
others. This was done sometimes to discern one family from another
of the same name; as a family Baron was nicknamed Lupien - Baron
dit Lupien - to distinguish it from other Baron families, Lupien
being the Christian name of the ancestor of that family in this
country. At other occasions the nickname originated through family
pride; when a member was distinguished, that branch of the family
would annex the Christian name of the hero, or, if a woman, the
family name of the revered heroine. In this manner some Cuilleriers
lost their own name through the marriage of John Cuillerier with
Mary Catherine Trotier de Beaubien; this lady was distinguished
through her family title of Beaubien, and after John Cuillerier's
death, by becoming the wife of Francis Picote de Belestre, an officer
of Fort Ponchartrain. On this account her children from the first
marriage signed themselves Cuillerier dit Beaubien, and in later
generations Cuillerier was dropped and nothing was left but Beaubien.
There are nicknames that originated from the peculiar circumstances of birth, like Nicolas Campau dit Niagara, who was born at the Portage of Niagara, when his parents were traveling from Detroit to Montreal. It happened, also, that nicknames were given by Indians, as Labadie dit Badichon, Peltier dit Antaya. Nicknames have also been given frivolously and would stick in future generations, as in the family of Poissant, sounding like Poisson (fish), by adding Lasaline (salt), Poissant dit Lasaline (saltfish). Another way of nicknaming was by adopting a peculiar Christian name by which a certain person was known in the community; so we find the family of Le Tourneux, a Jean-Baptiste Le Tourneux, who settled in Sandwich, opposite the Michigan Central Depot of present Detroit, about 110 years ago. He was known by everyone as Jeannette (the diminutive name of Jean); by incorrect spelling he became Janet and Janette, hence, Le Tourneux dit Janette. His numerous descendants are called Jannette. Other modes might be mentioned. It is singular that scarcely a name has been adopted from the trade, occupation or profession that a person followed. These nicknames are attached to the name proper by the word "dit" which might be rendered in our language by "called", "named", "namely", "to wit", "known as", but "dit" is so idiomatically French that it can hardly be translated into English. The suppression of "s" in some names, as from Chesne to Chene, Estienne to Etienne, is accounted for by the evolution of the French language from the old form to the modern way of spelling.