Origin(?) of Tetreau Name

Origin(?) of Tetreau Name

Most surnames have a reason for being, whether they originate from a characteristic, a locale, a vocation, a relationship, or possibly an important event in an individual's life. Thus we have names such as Short, Cruikshank (bowed legs), Carpenter, Smith, Ford (a river crossing), Hartford (a deer crossing at a river), Johnson (John's son), etc. While these are English names, this method of naming was not confined to that language. Of particular interest to us would be names like Meunier (miller), Desjardins (gardener), Chasseur (hunter), Forgeron (smith), Petit (little, small), Boucher (butcher), etc. However, there are some names for which these origins do not seem to fit. On closer scrutiny, some of these names could be variations of others. Jones could very well be a variation of John or a shortened form of Johnson, for example.

The French word for "son" is "fils," pronounced "feece" (fleece without the "l"). Therefore, the son of the Frenchman Maurice would be "Fils de Maurice," or, as we know it today, Fitzmaurice.Why is it, then, that we usually think of this name and others like it as being Irish? It is not widely remembered, or perhaps known, that the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 did not stop there. In later years, as Ireland came increasingly under English rule, many of the Norman French went from England to Ireland to claim land. In time, "Fils" evolved into "Fitz."

Whatever the origins of the name Tetreau may have been, they seem to be lost in the mists of time. There are those who claim that the name is a corruption of the verb "teter," meaning to suckle. In my own family, it was widely thought to have come from "tete-rouge," or redhead, because many of my family had this chracteristic. In fact, Louis Tetreau, our common ancestor, is said to have had red hair.

There is a legend which affords another interesting view of our name's origins. This story came to me quite a few years ago from a "cousin" in New York State. As the story goes: During the Middle Ages, the average French feudal peasant was firmly bound to the land of his landowner, or seigneur. He never left his village, and since most villages were very small, many if not most of the inhabitants did not even have surnames -- they just weren't needed. In the 1400's and 1500's, the Ottoman Turks were invading the Balkan Peninsula, and captured Constantinople (today's Istanbul) in 1453. Countries did not maintain standing armies such as we know today, and any defense was based on their knighthood and whatever citizens and peasants could be scraped together to form an army. The Turks, bent on conquest, and maintaining a strong army, presented the most aggressive danger at that time, and what forces there were did not seem able to stem the Turkish tide.

The particular events that concern us are the Turkish invasions of the Kingdom of Hungary, in the early 1500's. The Hungarian king appealed to his royal Christian brethren to help him out, and apparently among those who responded was the King of France. Word was sent down through the feudal ranks to raise a Christian army to fight the infidel. Among those who "volunteered" for this service was an ancestor of Louis Tetreau -- although he did not have a surname at the time. Battles were fought, and Hungary was defeated and partitioned between Turkey and Hapsburg Austria. Our ancestor obviously survived and went back to his village, presumably in the province of Poitou in west-central France.

However little education this ancestor had because of his lowly peasant status, he obviously had enough sense to notice that he was NOT the only one named Pierre, Antoine, Jacques, or whatever in the world -- he had met many others from various provinces of France with the same given names. So, he felt that he had to have some additional means of identification, if only to boost his own status in the village -- after all, he was now a "man of the world."

According to the legend, this ancestor's regiment, battalion, or group fought their campaigns in a sub-system of the Carpathian Mountains. This small range of mountains can be located on a map today on the southern border of Poland with Slovakia (the central part of what was once Czechoslovakia). The name of this mountain range is the Tatra Mountains. So the ancestor supposedly took the name of these mountains to be his surname, and it evolved into Tetreau.

Again, let it be emphasized that this is only a legend, and will probably never be proven one way or the other, but at least it makes a good story!

The name remained as such until our ancestor, Louis Tetreau, came to New France (Canada) and started the family here in North America. Now the name began to pick up many of its spelling variations. For example, Daniel, one of Louis' sons, signed his name as "Tetrot." Somewhere along the line, no one knows where or when, the "lt" was added to the name; as well as was the second "e" omitted (Tetrault).Why the "lt" was added, or the "t" in the case of Daniel's signature, is a mystery, because in spoken French these letters at the end of a word ordinarily would not be pronounced. When the French-Canadians started to come down to the U.S., that's when the real fun began. Many of them at that time could neither read or write, and the American town clerks and other record-keepers couldn't correctly spell the names, and probably weren't even interested in trying. This is the main reason, among others, why many of us spell our name "Tatro" today. Other variations are "Tatroe," and "Tatrow," to cite two examples.

There are some who knowingly changed the name to "Tatro," because of the English habit of pronouncing every letter -- so that "Tetreault" was pronounced like "Tet-ree-ault." Also, when the English or Americans tried to spell French names like they thought they sounded, other vaiations resulted. Gagnon became Ganyo, Ouelette became Willet, Gervais became Jarvis, etc. Some were literal translations, such as Leblanc or Blanchette becoming White, Boisvert becoming Greenwood, Beauchamp becoming Fairfield, and in a classic example, Courtemanche becoming Shortsleeves.

While probably not in such great numbers, the French also had their problems with the English names. This came about mainly with the French and Indian raids into New England, whereby English captives were dragged back to New France. Thus Farnsworth became Phaneuf, Rising became Raizenne, Stebbins became Stebenne, etc.

But whether you are Tetreau, Tetreault, Tetrault, Tatreau, Tatro, Tatroe, Tatrow, or whatever else, by virtue of being descendants of Louis Tetreau, we are all part of the same clan -- WE'RE ALL COUSINS!!!!!!!

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This page belongs to Eugene R Tatro.