Naming Practices

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.

Catholic or Protestant? Can you tell by the forenames? Preliminary

I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for the longest time, ever since a reader asked me, ‘Can you assume Catholic or Protestant for a family on the basis of their children’s first names?’

And my shorter answer is: No. No, you cannot infer a religious affiliation for your Irish ancestors on the basis of their children’s first names (or forenames). The only way to confidently ascertain your ancestor’s religion is to find evidence of religious affiliation in a reliable source (in a parish register, for example, or in a cemetery record).

And my longer answer (No, not necessarily, but…) is forthcoming…

But in the meantime, I was reminded of this question when I looked at the top ten first names in my genealogy database. The majority of individuals in this database were of Irish Catholic origin (but the database includes a significant minority of French Canadians, who were also Catholic). And here are the top ten first names:

  1. Mary
  2. John
  3. James
  4. Margaret
  5. Thomas
  6. Catherine
  7. Patrick
  8. Michael
  9. William
  10. Bridget

Of the above list of names, I would say that Patrick, Michael, and Bridget warrant a presumption in favour of Irish Catholic. Whereas Mary, John, James, Margaret? maybe Irish, maybe English, maybe Scottish, who knows? Catholic, Anglican, or Presbyterian: again, who knows? The only way to confidently ascertain is to get serious with the records.

Don’t expect every Irish Catholic ancestor in your family tree to announce himself the product of a Catholic Gaeltacht with a name like Séamus O’Shaughnessy. Some of your Irish RC ancestors may have had names like John Smith.

By the way, there is no Séamus O’Shaughnessy in my database; I just pulled that name out of a hat. There are certainly some Irish Catholic Smiths in my database, though.

Link

So the reason I’m blue in the face is not apnoea or an impending heart attack, it’s from telling people over and over and over that it makes no difference whether your Quin family have been insanely fussy about spelling their surname with one N for the past three centuries. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the person writing the name down was not a Quin, and couldn’t give a hoot.

– John Grenham, The Os and the Macs

What was her ‘real’ name? (Lillian Doyle)

Nowadays we tend to think of someone as having a ‘real’ name, with nicknames and diminutives as informal variations on that one official and authentic version of the name. A person’s ‘real’ name is what appears on the birth certificate, of course (and also in the baptismal record, if relevant), and in all subsequent official documents (driver’s licenses, marriage certificates, deeds to property, and so on). Nicknames and diminuitives are for casual, informal use only.

It was different in the nineteenth century, however, when people were much more flexible about name variations (and also about surname spellings, which point is admittedly a bit of a hobbyhorse of mine).

Take, for example, Lillian Doyle. And I call her “Lillian Doyle” because that is the name that I remember her by. Not that I ever met her: she died before I was born. But I recall my father and his sister talking about her, and hers is one of those names that has always stuck in my mind. Dominic Stanton. Evelyn Sullivan.  Tommy Burke. Danny O’Neill. Lillian Doyle. A whole cast of colourful characters  whom I only “know” by hearsay, or only posthumously, so to speak, but who have always seemed to play an interesting part in the drama (or perhaps comedy?) of my father’s family history.

Emmet/Emmett as First or Middle Name

One of the things I love about TNG (The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding) is its powerful search capacity. Once you’ve entered some data into your TNG-based genealogy database, you can quickly and easily perform all kinds of searches based on any number of criteria. Cause of death contains “tuberculosis,” for example, gives me this list (which almost certainly underrepresents the actual number of tuberculosis victims in my database, since I either have not discovered or have not entered the cause of death for many, many individuals). Birth place “Arnprior,” to give another example, produces this list(96 individuals, many of them Cunninghams, Finnertys and Galligans, and with 16 surnames represented overall).

I’ve already written of my family tree’s “Loreto/Loretto as girl’s middle name” mini-trend, which began around 1860 and peaked around 1900 or so.

Hanorah Ryan’s Death Records

RC Burial Record and Ontario Civil Registration

If you’re looking for Catholic ancestors, the parish register, if available, will be a very important, and in many cases the most important, source of genealogical information.
Because the RC records typically supply maiden names (of the mother of an infant in the case of a baptism; of both the bride’s and the groom’s mothers in the case of a marriage; and of a married or widowed decedent in the case of a burial), it’s the Catholic parish register that will enable you to most easily and reliably reconstruct your family along both paternal and maternal lines. Moreover, the names of sponsors and witnesses (godparents, marriage witnesses and burial witnesses) can often help shed light on significant (but otherwise poorly document) familial connections. And for Irish Catholic ancestors in the Ottawa Valley area, the marriage records of first- and second-generation emigrants will occasionally supply the name of a county and perhaps even a parish in Ireland (and this even when the priest recording the information was not Irish but French Canadian).

Firstborn Son or Eldest Known Surviving Son?

It was virtually universal in every class and creed in Ireland for the firstborn son to be given the Christian name of his paternal grandfather. One can presume this with a degree of genealogical surety — provided one knows the name of the firstborn son, which, in an era of high infant mortality, was not necessarily the name of the eldest surviving son.
– Rosemary ffolliott, “Irish Naming Practices before the Famine”*

This is an obvious point, succinctly stated by Rosemary ffolliott in the passage cited above. And yet, I’ve seen enough people jump to hasty conclusions based on the name of the eldest known son that I think it bears repeating: if you don’t have the complete parish records for a given family (with all of their children’s baptismal records all lined up nicely in a chronological row), then you cannot assume that the name of their eldest known son gives you the name of his paternal grandfather.

So, for example, my great-great-great-grandparents James Moran and Margaret Jamieson emigrated from Ireland to Canada about 1820 (but possibly as early as 1818), and can be found in Huntley township (Carleton Co., Ontario) by 1821. Various Canadian records (especially census returns and Roman Catholic parish registers) allow me to reconstruct a family of three sons (Thomas, James, and Alexander ["Sandy"] Michael) and seven daughters (Marcella, Mary, Margaret, Julia, Elizabeth, Anna, and Henrietta), with the eldest known son, Thomas, born at Huntley about 1822. Can I therefore conclude that James the Irish emigrant was the son of a Thomas Moran back in Ireland? 

Middle Name ‘Loretto’/’Loreto’

In my family tree, I’ve noticed the name Loreto/Loretto as a girl’s middle name from about 1860. It seems to peak around 1900 or so (though there are a couple of examples which occur a generation or two later).

So, for example, my great-grandmother, daughter of Patrick Killeen and Bridget Galligan, was baptized Bridget Loreto Killeen on 11 Jun 1861. Her first cousin, daughter of John Killeen and Margaret Fahey, was baptized Celestina Loreto Killeen on 28 Mar 1871. Her second cousin, daughter of Thomas Daniel Galligan and Catherine Brady, was baptized Helen Loreto Galligan on 20 Apr 1896. Her husband John James Lahey’s second cousin, daughter of Thomas Armstrong and Henrietta Charlebois, was baptized Bridget Loretto Armstrong on 29 May 1898 (this Bridget Loretto is also connected to my father’s family through at least one other branch).
I had initially assumed that the name referred to the Marian shrine in Italy. However, given that the above were all Canadian Catholics of Irish origin, it seems at least as likely that the name was chosen with reference to the Loretto Sisters who first arrived in Canada in 1847.