"dit" names

"dit" and "dite" Names

French naming conventions in the 1500's through the 1800's included the custom of using "dit" names. "dite" is the feminine form. "dit" names can lead to confusion and complications in genealogical research. An example of a "dit" name in my husband's family is:

Philippe Destroismaisons dit Picard

My Acadian mother-in-law has told me that the word "dit" means "say" and is used to mean "also called". Other people have explained "dit" names as nicknames or aliases; however, "dit" names were used in a larger context. I liken them to surname "modifiers".

"dit" names came into practice in part when the French military recruited large numbers of soldiers in the 15th and 16th centuries. Back then, only families of nobility or importance really used surnames. Commoners were mostly known by their given or baptismal names, or as Jean Baptiste, fils de Pierre (Jean Baptiste the son of Pierre), or as Antoine de Paris (Antoine from Paris), or as Francois le Grand (Francois the large), or as Louis le Courturier (Louis the dressmaker). These names gradually became surnames. With a number of soldiers being named Jean Baptiste Pierre, Antoine Paris, Francois leGrand, or Louis Courturier, as well as many other common names, the military needed a way to keep track of individuals better. Soldiers were given "dit" names that added on to their names for easier identification. Some "dit" names signified where the soldier came from. Some "dit" names came about due to some characteristic of or action by the soldier. (my NOTE: these examples here ARE fictional.)

Another purpose of "dit" names was to signify different branches of a large family. I have seen this with several of the branches of my husband's family. For example, the line that descended from Barnabe Martin used Martin dit Barnabe to signify which Martin family they came from.

In the example at the top of the page, Philippe is the given or baptismal name. Philippe's grandfather, Antoine, (or an even earlier unknown ancestor) acquired the surname Destroismaisons (the Three Houses) from the little "hameau" (Hamlet) that they lived in. When Philippe came to Quebec, he acquired the "dit" name of Picard, signifying that he was from the region of Picardie. As the name was passed down generation after generation, some retained the name as Destroismaisons dit Picard while others took one or the other of the two surnames. As I understand it, in the early 1800's, the Quebec (or perhaps the Canadian) government grew tried of the 2-name French Canadians and required them to chose 1 or the other as their official/legal name. I suppose that it was confusing for the purposes of record keeping as some people used either name interchangeably. So, the French Canadians had to chose one or the other of the surnames. Some chose to hyphenate the surname and the dit name to create 1 official surname.

When researching surnames, don't forgot to look at
all possible spellings and combinations of surnames and dit names.

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This page created on Netscape Composer on 12/30/1999 by "WebDesign by Ellen".
Updated using CuteHTML on 02/20/2004