Episode 002-December 17, 2013
In episode 002, we learned how to pronounce the French words dit and dite. We also covered why and how dit names came into existence, and how to use them to your advantage instead of letting them become a brick wall.
Language Tip #2-Dit/Dite and French Adjectives
In the last episode (MapleStarsandStripes.com/1), we learned that we only pronounce a final consonant if there is a silent ‘e’ after it. So dit does not rhyme with ‘sit.’ It would more closely rhyme with ‘bee.’ Dite, on the other hand, would rhyme with ‘feet.’
Because French is a Romance language, its nouns are classified as either masculine or feminine. Masculine nouns must be described by adjectives in the masculine form; feminine nouns must be described by adjectives in the feminine form. Because chien, the word for ‘dog,’ is masculine, it would be accompanied by the French article le (the) and adjective blanc (white). Also, adjectives come after the noun. So ‘the white dog’ would be:
le chien blanc
the dog white
Since maison is a feminine noun, ‘the white house’ would be:
la maison blanche
the house white
Therefore, dit refers to a male and dite refers to a female.
The Dreaded Dit Name
Dit and dite come from the French word dire, to say. So Antoine Forget dit Latour loosely translates to Antoine Forget called Latour.
Dit names are thought to come from soldiers’ noms de guerre, given to distinguish soldiers with the same name, perhaps an indication of each soldier’s unit. There are also many other reasons why dit names were used:
- Nom de guerre
- Distinguish two unrelated families with the same surname
- Distinguish different branches of the same family
- Indicate place of origin
- Indicate place of residence
- Indicate a physical characteristic
- Indicate a personality trait
- Use the name of an ancestor
- Indicate occupation
Where to Find Lists of Dit Names
- Books (search WorldCat or Google Books):
- René Jetté and Micheline Lécuyer’s Répertoire des noms de famille du Québec des origines à 1825 (Repertory of Family Names of Québec from the Beginning to 1825)
- René Jetté’s Dictionnaire généalogique des familles du Québec
- Index des surnoms et des sobriquets (Index of Family Nicknames) published by the Archives nationales du Québec
- Tanguay’s Dictionnaire généalogique, volume 7
- Robert Quintin’s French Canadian Surnames: Aliases, Adulterations, and Anglicizations (This book used to be available as a PDF download but is no longer available.)
- Sullivan and Szabo’s Family Names and Nicknames in Colonial Québec
- PRDH (Programme de Recherche en Démographie Historique du Québec)
If you are stuck and can’t get back any further on a particular line, make a list of alternative names for your surname in question. Then go back to the records in the location where your ancestor should be. See if you can find him or her in those records under a different name.
UPDATE (November 14, 2014): The Fédération québécois des sociétés de généalogies has published a resource for those searching for dit names or other name variations. You can download the .pdf at http://federationgenealogie.qc.ca/Fichiers/patronymes2.pdf. Read their article about surnames here: http://www.semainegenealogie.com/capsules/les-noms-de-famille (in French).
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