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.”