MSS-004-More French-Canadian Name Variations

Episode 004-January 21, 2014

Sometimes as we work backwards, it seems that our ancestors appear out of thin air. When you can’t follow your ancestors back in time, consider the possibility that a name variation of some sort could be impeding your progress.

Episode 4 covered the different spellings for the long O sound in surnames and why you shouldn’t rely on Soundex searches. Then we covered other types of surname variations.

Language Tip #4- Different Spellings for the Long O Sound

In my genealogy database, I have recorded fourteen different ways to spell the surname Renaud, excluding dit names [episode 2] and misspellings. Remember that we do not pronounce final consonants unless there is a silent –e at the end. So all these spellings are pronounced, more or less, the same way:

Rainaud           Raineau           Rano              Ranolds

Regneault        Renaud            Renauld         Renault

Renaut             Reneau            Reneault        Renno

Reno                Reyno

Other ways of spelling the long O sound:

-au                   -aust                 -aux               -eaut

-eaux                -os                    -ost                -ot

Have you found any other letter combinations for the long O sound?

Soundex summary-

The Soundex system was developed in the 1920s by the US Census Bureau to help index names in the census. Many immigrant groups had surnames with strange vowel combinations. One sound could be made by many different vowels. So the Soundex system grouped words together phonetically. Each Soundex code consisted of four characters. The first character was always the first letter of the surname, no matter whether it was a consonant or vowel. The next three digits were numbers based on consonant or consonant sounds. Vowels were ignored. Consonants from the same letter family that were formed in similar ways were grouped together and assigned the same number.

  • 1        B,P,F,V
  • 2        C,S,G,J,K,Q,X,Z
  • 3        D, T
  • 4        L
  • 5        M, N
  • 6        R
  • Not coded        A,E,I,O,U,Y,H,W

The Americanized version, Reno, has a Soundex of R500. But, even though in French the –d is silent, the code for Renaud is R530. Here are the Soundex codes for the various possible (not actual) spellings for the surname Renaud:

  • R253–   Regnaud, Regnaut
  • R254–   Regnault, Regneault
  • R500–   Raineau, Rano, Reneau, Renno, Reno, Reyno, Renau
  • R520–   Renaux, Reneaux, Renos
  • R523–   Renost
  • R530–  Rainaud, Renaud, Renaut, Renaust, Reneaut, Renot
  • R543-  Renolds, Renauld, Renault, Reneault
  • R553– Renand (a misspelling)

So if you rely on a Soundex search in an online database to locate all possible hits for your ancestor, and you type in ‘Renaud,’ which is R530, you are missing twenty other candidates in seven different code groups.

To find the Soundex codes for your surnames, look at your genealogy database program. Many have a Soundex converter built in. If not, try the Rootsweb Soundex Converter.

Renaud Soundex

More French-Canadian Name Variations

There are many different reasons for the various French-Canadian surname variations.

Illiteracy was a factor until recent times. Spelling was not consistent in both Québec and America in the early days. Different dialects pronounced words differently, and the priest wrote what he heard.


Leclerc = Leclair

Also, the English names of captives and native Indian names were difficult to pronounce in French. Therefore, Farnsworth became Phaneuf. The digit 8 is placed in Indian names that contain a sound similar to huit, the French word for the number 8. And remember, Inconnu is not a surname; it means ‘unknown.’

Once living in America, French names were very difficult for English-speakers to pronounce. So changes were made, sometimes by our ancestors so they could better fit in with their neighbors.


  • Ouillette became Willet.
  • Mathieu, as we saw in episode 3, became Micue.
  • Pelletier became first Peltier, then Pelkey or Pelcher.
  • Cloutier became Cloukey, or variations of that.
  • Thibeault became Tebo.
  • Benoit was either Anglicized in pronunciation, or the spelling changed to Benway, close to its French pronunciation.


  • Lapierre became Stone or Rock.
  • Roi became either Roy or King.
  • Lajeunesse became Young.
  • L’Évêsque became Bishop.
  • L’Anglais became English.
  • LeBlanc became White.
  • And my neighbor’s Bouthilette became Butler.
Where to Find More French-Canadian Name Variations

Try looking up your problem surname in a French dictionary to find the English equivalent. If you don’t have one handy, try the online Collins French Dictionary. Or try many of the sources we mentioned in the ‘Dreaded Dit Name’ at Included with many of the dit names were other types of name variations as well:

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

American-French Genealogy Society ‘Dit’ Name List

A Big ‘Thanks’

Thanks go out to Marian Pierre-Louis of Fieldstone Common for her shout-out as well as to those who took the time to send along encouraging comments.

There are now many ways to subscribe and connect with Maple Stars and Stripes. The podcast is now available by subscription on iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow the blog by email by signing up in the sidebar, and there are several ways to provide feedback. You can find links to these at And very important, if you’ve been enjoying the podcast and want to help get the word out to other French-Canadian researchers, you can do that by going into iTunes or Stitcher and giving the podcast a positive review and a 5-star rating. And even in this technological age, word-of-mouth is still extremely effective. Thanks for listening.


Listener Contributions:

See “The Greek digraph representing the sounds /ou/ or English /w/ before a vowel” by Suzanne Sommerville for an explanation of the native pronunciation.


6 comments on “MSS-004-More French-Canadian Name Variations

  1. Pingback: MSS-004-More French-Canadian Name Variations | Maple Stars and Stripes

  2. Pingback: Tuesday’s Tip: Podcast #4 | Family Circle 14

  3. Jean-Richard Pelland

    You mention the changes of Peltier/Pelletier to Pelkey and the change from Cloutier to Cloukey, Clutchey and such. These are not mere anglicisations; they are the result of dialectal pronunciations of French that our ancestors had, some of which can still be found in French-Canadian pronunciations today. It was common for people to pronounce the letter T as an K. Thus, Trottier became Trokey, Gauthier Gokey and Berthiaume became Barcomb. We hear this in informal French when ‘tiens donc ça’ commes out as ‘kin donc ça’ or tourtière commes out as ‘tourquière’. Furthermore, while the lettter H is silent is modern French, this was not always the case. The H aspiré was actually pronounced in old French and this archaic feature was very present in Canadian French. I know many older folk who pronounce the H in words such as ‘hache, hanche, hâte’ and ‘honte’. The same is true of the surname Houle-Houde.

    Last, I noticed that you placed both a circumflex accent and an S in the name Lévesque. The circumflex accent generally serves to replace an S, so one would not find them together. It is usually either Lévêque or Lévesque.

    1. Sandra Goodwin

      Thanks, Jean-Richard, for the elaboration and clarification, especially for the info about the circumflex accent. I didn’t know that. I learned something new today. Thanks!!

  4. Jean-Richard Pelland

    I think the role of the circumflex accent becomes more obvious when you compare the following pairs of words:

    fête-feast bête-beast, hâte-haste, pâte-paste and pasta, mât-mast, île-isle, fenêtre-finestra (Italian) and defenestrate, arrêt-arrest, côte-coast, prêtre-priest, honnête-honest, hôte-host, maître-master, coût-cost, plâtre-plaster, quête-quest, tempête-tempest, forêt-forest, août-August and guêpe-wasp. This last one also shows the G to W relationship that exists between some French and English words: Guillaume-William, guerre-war, guerrier-warrior guarantie-warantee ect. Knowing these relationships can sometimes help figure out what a word means. If I didn’t know what a ‘croûte de pain’ was, I could probably figure out that it was a crust of bread.

    However, be forewarned there are many words in French where the circumflex accent does not replace an S. Sometimes it is to replace a double vowel âge( used to be aage in Old French), or it could be to distinguish the word from a homophone, dû, fût, dîner for example.

    Jean-Richard Pelland

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