As posted on the “Acadian and Cajun Genealogy, History, Culture and Music” Facebook Group, July 2011, by Robin Heider:
The “Dit name” & “Nom de Guerre” 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.