Nicknames (“Dit” Names)

Even the casual observer will notice that a substantial number of these Acadian families bore one or more nicknames. Some among these suggest that probable origins of the families, such as Amirault dit Tourangeau, Cellier dit Normand, Deveau dit Dauphiné, Duon dit Lyonnais, Guillot dit Langevin, Le Jeune dit Briard, Levron dit Nantois, Orillon dit Champagne, Préjeandit Le Breton and so on. These nicknames provide only clues to the origins of some families where such origins cannot otherwise be documented, but conversely, narrow-down the field of possible origins of the original seventeenth century recruits, since such nicknames would make little sense unless referring to something distinctive about these families.

Other nicknames betray the military past of the family’s founder. For a substantial period during which no official efforts were made to attract new colonists, most of the new settlers in Acadia were former soldiers whose years of service were sufficient to permit their retirement and marriage to local girls. In the case of Berrier dit Machefer, Bonnevie dit Beaumont, Creysac dit Toulouse, Garceau dit Tranchemontagne, La Lande dit Bonappetit, Léger dit La Rozette, Marchanddit Poitiers and a few others, documentary evidence of military service exists. In the case of several others, including LeBert dit Jolycoeur, Lord dit La Montagne, Mazerolle dit Saint-Louis and Richard dit Sansoucy, the sort of nickname borne by the family bespeaks a military background, even in the absence of proof.

A relatively uncommon Christian name might also be perpetuated as a replacement for the original family name. Thus the Brasseurs were called Mathieu; the Caissys, Roger; the Henrys, Robert; and the Vigreaus, Maurice, from the given name of the first ancestor of each line. In other cases, a branch of a large family might adopt the first name of the founder of the branch in place of the family name, to distinguish itself from other branches of the same clan (Hébertdit Manuel, Pitre dit Marc, Vincent dit Clément), or the descendants of one family might employ their ancestor’s given name in the same way, to set themselves apart from another family with the same last name (Martin dit Barnabé).

As posted on Facebook, July 2011, by Ribin Heider: The “Dit name” in North America has it’s roots in the military tradition of the French army of regimental anonymity. French recruits were given their official “Dit name” upon acceptance into a regimental group. For the period of enlistment, they were known almost exclusively by these names. Their pay, orders and administration were all issued via these names. One purpose of the names was to separate the recruit from his civilian past and create of the military, his family and sole society. The names did not vary from regiment to regiment very much, the net result being that Lafontaine and Martel families as well as Lajeunesse and Esprit families do not not necessarily share any familial relationship outside the military. As the regiments disbanded in North America, they were often enticed to stay and put down roots. Land grants to these ex-marines and infantry men, were granted under the direction of the war office and so, were granted in military fashion to Paul Richard Dit Martel . Thus these ‘nom de guerres’ became legal name in the civil law of New France. As soldiers would be disbanded in groups and civil defense (militia) groups were formed, this tradition would be reinforced in the social fabrique of the towns and villages and seigneurial organization of the colonies. Name sake sons, often felt the need to assert separate identities from their father’s military ones and so would adopt nicknames or were given them, so that differentiation would be easier. Le Breton, St Seine, and St Pierre are all examples of names of differentiation that were affixed to common names, to separate non-related family groups who hailed from different regions. Le Gros, Lejeune , Le Petit, Le Grand were used to separate namesakes within families. As many of you have noted it took nearly a hundred years of settlement before the colonist began using names other-than the small groups of accepted Sts names.

Some nicknames reflect the ancestor’s occupation. Thus the descendants of the blacksmith Thomas Sauvage, came to be known as the Forgeron family, while those of the butcher André Simon, called themselvesBouchers. In other cases, the nickname was most likely suggested by the ancestor’s occupation, but documentary evidence of the latter is lacking (Calvé and Guérin, both dit Laforge).

Over all, the list includes the names of families whose members occupied a wide spectrum of social and economic levels, from the upholders of justice (Boudrot, Desgoutins) down to those who appear to have come here to evade its execution (Denis, Mangeant dit Saint-Germain, Sauvagedit Forgeron, Serreau de Saint-Aubin).

The above-noted was written by Stephen White for Parks Canada and permission to reproduce provided me by Stephen, as well as Portage Technologies Inc., producers of “The Acadia CD-ROM”. I am also grateful to Parks Canada for allowing reproduction.