French Canadian “dit” names

Here is ancestry.ca’s record listing for the baptism of Marie Cleophie [Cléophée] Cheval, daughter of Joseph Cheval and Marie Louise Goneau:

marie cleophee chevalditstjacques baptism

And here is ancestry.ca’s record listing for the marriage of Cleophes [Marie Cléophée] Cheval to Pierre Dubeau, son of Pierre Dubeau and Louise Poirier dit Desloges:

marie cleophee chevalditstjacques marriage

Note that an ancestry.ca user has supplied a correction to “Cleophes Cheval,” and that this corrected name of “Marie-Cléophée Cheval” is included in ancestry’s search results. Never a bad idea to submit a correction, if you’re reasonably certain that your information is more accurate than what is currently listed at ancestry.

And here, finally, is ancestry.ca’s record listing for the burial of Cleophee [Marie Cléophée] St Jacques:

marie cleophee chevalditstjacques burial

marie cleophee chevalditstjacques burial textThe actual burial record1 (see image at right, and click on the image to view a larger version) identifies her as “Cléophée St Jacques wife of Pierre Dubeau.” What happened to the surname Cheval? and where did that surname St. Jacques come from?

If you didn’t know anything about French Canadian “dit” names, and if you also didn’t know much about Catholic record-keeping, you might assume that the priest had omitted the surname Cheval because the deceased woman was identified by the name of her husband; and you might further assume that St. Jacques was the surname of a previous husband (previous to Pierre Dubeau, that is). But of course both of those assumptions would be wrong.

For Catholic records, the standard practice was/is to identify women by their family (or maiden) names — which is one of the reasons why Roman Catholic parish records are so extremely valuable to genealogical researchers.

And the reason why Marie Cléophée Cheval was also known as Marie Cléophée St Jacques is that she carried a surname with a “dit” name: Cheval dit St. Jacques.

More on “dit” names

French-Canadian “dit” names are a fascinating, often charming, and potentially highly informative naming practice that can certainly make your record search more complicated. Was your ancestor’s name recorded as Cheval dit St. Jacques, for example? or as just Cheval? or perhaps as just St. Jacques?

If your search for a French-Canadian ancestor is coming up cold, you should consider the possibility that your ancestor had a “dit” name by which he or she was also known or called. (The “dit” of French and French-Canadian dit names means “called,” but in English would have the connotation of “also called,” or “also known as.”)

Fortunately, there is a fair bit of information on “dit” names on the internet. See, especially, the American-French Genealogy Society’s collection of French-Canadian surname variants, dit names, and anglicizations.

I also recommend “The nicknames and ‘dit names’ of French-Canadian ancestors,” at the Library and Archives Canada Blog.

  1.  Ste. Elizabeth (Vinton, Pontiac Co., Québec), Register of Births, Marriages and Burials, 1875-1882, Sepult. Cléophée St Jacques, image 26 of 54: database, Ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca/: accessed 26 July 2014), Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967.