The nicknames and “dit names” of French-Canadian ancestors

In France, nicknames were added to surnames to distinguish between families with similar names living in the same geographical area. When immigrants coming from France settled in New France, this custom continued. Some immigrants, mostly soldiers, already had an alias or a “dit name” when they arrived while others acquired a “dit name” after they settled in New France.

How were “dit names” created?

“Dit names” were created by taking a person’s family name, adding a nickname that described one of the individual’s unique characteristics, and connecting the two with the word “dit,” for example, Miville dit Deschênes.

These nicknames were based on the following:

  • physical characteristics (Le Fort, Le Roux);
  • moral characteristics (Le Bon, Le Sage);
  • trades (Le Boucher);
  • places of origin, including country, province, city, town, village (le Picard, Le Normand);
  • places of residence (Du Val, Du Puis);
  • first names of ancestors (Deblois dit Grégoire, Fasche dit Robert);
  • actions (Ladébauche, Ladéroute).

Until around the 1850s, both surnames and “dit names” were used in records. After that time, only one of the two names was used.

Lists of “dit names” and their associated surnames can be found in the publications and websites that follow:

  • Dictionnaire généalogique des familles canadiennes depuis la fondation de la colonie jusqu’à nos jours (OCLC84696383) by Cyprien Tanguay, volume 7 (also available online on the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec website);
  • Dictionnaire des familles du Québec, (OCLC718113177) by René Jetté;
  • Répertoire des noms de famille du Québec, des origines à 1825 by René Jetté and Micheline Lécuyer (OCLC22277750).

Other relevant websites

Conduct your own research using AMICUS

Do your own search for “dit names” in AURORA by title or subject using terms such as “name,” “family name” and “France.”

Library and Archives Canada releases ninth podcast episode

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode: Pulp Canada: between the covers. Pulps, with their screaming story titles and attention-grabbing cover art, already began to capture the public interest by the turn of the 20th century.

Professor Carolyn Strange, author of True Crime True North: The Golden Age of Canadian Pulp Magazines, and author Ian Driscoll join us to talk about LAC ’s pulp fiction collection. They discuss the different aspects of the collection and bring to light some of the incredible stories surrounding this literature form.

Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS or iTunes, or just tune in at: Podcast – Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.

For more information, please contact us at podcast@bac-lac.gc.ca.

Sheet music from Canada’s past

Did you know that Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has one of the most comprehensive sheet music collection in the country? Thanks to Helmut Kallmann, the founding Chief of the Music Division at the National Library of Canada (now part of LAC), who collected any early Canadian sheet music he could find.

Recently, over a thousand pieces of sheet music from this collection were digitized and are now available online. These titles were published before 1918 and include a wide variety of patriotic and parlour songs, piano pieces, sacred music, etc.

Colour image depicting people dancing in a barn.

Sheet music cover image of a musical piece entitled, “The Village Barn Dance” by Mollie King. Source

Visit LAC’s Sheet Music from Canada’s Past website to learn more or to search for music sheets. Here’s how:

  1. Click on Search Sheet Music located in the left menu.
  2. In the first box, click the down arrow and choose the time period you would like to search, e.g. “1900-1913.”
  3. In the second box, click the down arrow and choose the type of search, e.g. Title keyword (song title).
  4. In the third box, you can enter a search term, e.g. “barn”.
  5. Click the “Submit” button at the bottom.

The browsing options in the fourth box allows you to limit your search to digitized music for which there is either printed music or audio files available. Please note that default searching has been set at “All Time Periods”, “Any Keyword” but you can modify these settings by following the above steps.

Once you have found a piece of sheet music, you will see some or all of the following information:

  1. A description of the music.
  2. A small colour image of the front cover.
  3. A large colour image of the cover.
  4. A “View sheet music” icon.
  5. An “Audio” icon

As the sheet music is available as PDFs, you can print the music on letter size paper.

Historical Debates of the Parliament of Canada (Hansard) now online!

Congratulations to the Library of Parliament and Canadiana: the Historical Debates of the Parliament of Canada portal is now live!

This new portal contains the historical debates in both official languages from 1867 to the mid-1990s. This means you can now search and browse all published debates of both the Senate and the House of Commons from Parliament 1, Session 1, until the coverage begins on parl.gc.ca.

As mentioned above, the portal was developed by the Library of Parliament, in collaboration with Canadiana.org, a membership alliance dedicated to building Canada’s digital preservation infrastructure and providing wide-ranging access to Canadian documentary heritage. Library and Archives Canada is pleased to have provided support by producing the digital page images.

You can consult our blog Looking for the Debates of the House of Commons (Hansard) online? of June 2012 to help you find information on the House of Commons debates.

Validating your ancestor’s arrival in Canada before 1865

So you have searched the immigration records prior to 1865, and still no trace of your ancestor? If you didn’t find your ancestor’s arrival before 1865, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has other genealogical resources that can assist in confirming an ancestor’s arrival in Canada.

Where did he or she settle?
Is he or she listed in census returns? LAC’s collection of census databases, which can be searched by a person’s name, can confirm an individual’s presence as early as 1825. Perhaps a reference exists for one of the parents (recorded as the head of the family) or for a sibling.

Many early settlers submitted petitions to obtain land where they could establish their family in Upper Canada or Lower Canada. LAC’s databases provide references to land transactions that give the person’s name, the date of the application and the county or township within a province.

Perhaps he served in the military?
Muster rolls, pay lists and various registers can reveal useful information when tracing former military personnel. Have a look at the Military page where many finding aids are searchable by name. For example, the RG8, C Series (British Military and Navy Records) includes records about Loyalist regiments, the War of 1812, and the Canadian militia. The documents for the RG8, C Series have been digitized and are searchable by name on our website. Refer to the Help pages for explanations of the records.

Life events in records
The date of arrival in Canada can be estimated by searching birth, marriage, and death records for first occurrences such as the birth of a child to confirm the presence of the family in a location. Consult our previous blog on how to search for Birth, Marriage and Death Records.

Published sources
Family histories, historical atlases and other published works can be searched in AMICUS, LAC’s online catalogue. It is also possible that your ancestor lived in a location that published a city directory.

The genealogical community
Many genealogical societies have resources specific to where your ancestor settled. Finding aids that describe a location are valuable tools when searching for ancestors.

Happy discoveries!