The dits names

This article is divided into 3 parts:

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. It seems the usage exists almost only in France, New France and in Scotland where we find clans or septs.

I have a photocopy of a 1471 land record rented by my ancestor Barthelemy Hugon dit Jarret which is called Bartelemeo Hugonis alias Jarreti in this record and some others. There is another Jarret in the area at this time with another dit name, so we can say the dit name was given, in that case, to distinguish the 2 different families. Barthelemy was living in Dauphine, like many soldiers of Carignan Regiment who came here in 1665-1668. While they were not the only ones nor the first to use dit names in New France, it seems those soldiers are responsible for the great extent the dit names reached in Quebec compared to France, Acadia or Louisiana . This would explain, for example, why there is a concentration of families with dit names around Lac St-Pierre where seigneuries belonged often to retired officers from Carignan regiment (Vercheres, Sorel, Contrecoeur, etc. to name a few).

Among some reasons of dit names, we find:

How to deal with them

A generic person's name is built like this:

Joseph Jarret dit Beauregard

Joseph is the first name

Jarret is, in this case, the patronym or ancestral family name

Beauregard is, in this case, the dit name

After some generations, it is no more obvious what is the specific patronym or dit name, so we will find Beauregard dit Jarret. Moreover, it is also possible both family and dit names are switched the first time someone used a dit name.

In the records, dit names are actual alias, that is, they can be legally used to replace the original patronym. Because of this, one will find the same person known as:

Joseph Jarret

Joseph Beauregard

Joseph Jarret dit Beauregard

Joseph Beauregard dit Jarret

What this means? If you are looking for the marriage of a Joseph Beauregard married with Jeanne Joachim, you may find it as Joseph Jarret married with Jeanne Laverdure (a dit name for Joachim).

Other name variations

Dit names are not the only method of combining or changing family names.

There are also errors like switching first name and family name in one record (for example, I have a Richard VINCENT who is actually Vincent RICHARD), changing a first name to a family name (there is a Claude VINCENT who is Claude-Vincent MENNESON). The only difference with dit names in this case is that the combination happened only one time. There are spelling variations so that a Bourgault would be name Beauregard in a record. There is also a modern concept in Quebec that consists in giving both the names of the father and the mother.

I proposed to use the following convention to distinguish usage:

= for specific dit names (Beauregard=Jarret)

/ for spelling variation (Jarest/Charest)

- for other kinds of name combinations (modern combining of names)

I would suggest this when using standardized names (i.e. not names as found in the record, but names that a searcher would look for) in databases when you are building them in view of exchanging them. You should also write the actual name as found in the record and good genealogy softwares should allow for both names (standard name for search and actual name for printing of charts). If your software supports one name, I suggest to write the standardized name and to put the name read in the record in a note; if it supports many names, the first name would the standardized name and the next would be alternatives. How to find what shall be the standardized name? Micheline Lécuyer, who worked with René Jetté to produce a list of dit names ("Répertoire des Noms de Famille du Québec" des Origines à 1825) suggests, when the name is not the Jetté's dictionary, to use a phone book (usually Montréal or Québec City) and to select the more common form.

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Last update: Dec. 19th, 1995