Bev Farrington left this post in the genforum regarding Dit names and Angelicized names, and I thought it was so helpful I wanted to include it here!
Figuring out what a surname really was versus what it is today can be both frustrating and challenging. Here are a few tips that I've offered over the years.
These are pages on the AFGS (American-French Geneological Society) website:
There are three different categories of name changes.
The first category is the use of the DIT NAME, where a family carried an additional name based on location, occupation, physical characteristic, major accomplishment, and so forth. Siblings in the same family may vary the use of one name or another and they did not always use only one solely, until such time as the government mandated the use of one name.
The second category is what is TRUE ANGLICIZATION. That is when a name was literally TRANSLATED. Examples are L'Ecuyer = Bishop, Boulanger = Baker, Leveille = Smart, Lamontagne = Mountain, Roi = King, and so forth. I encourage everyone to spend $5 for a basic French to English dictionary, and use it to find the root word of the name and determine what it most likely would be as a common English/Anglo name. Don't keep looking at La, Des, De, Le, and other prefixes, those generally mean "the", such as in my surname - Laflamme, which translates into English as "the flame".
The third category is what is simply an ANGLO DISTORTION of the original name. Those not familiar with how the French language sounds, do not realize that it is not pronounced how it is spelled. Such as Gagnon, one would hear Gannaw. Clerics and census enumerators (as a rule) only had a basic education, so whatever they heard was spelled phonetically by them. Some of the distortions that immediately come to my mind are Lajoie to Lashua/Lashaway, Charron to Sharrow, Hebert to Abare, and any that have a silent h, such as Therrien will become something else, such as Terriaw.
Given names are a difficult area as well.
There are the typical ones that are simply the Anglo translation of names such as Pierre to Peter, Marie to Mary, Anselme to Samuel, Noe to Noah, Benoni to Benjamin, and the list is endless.
There are those that are shortened or abbreviated versions of names, such as Dina or Lina from Adelina, Delia or Ida from Adelaide, Fresine from Euphrosine, Jennie from Genevieve, Paul or Leon from Napoleon, and so forth.
Many names are interchangeable and use from one to another varied as often as young girls change their clothes. Some examples are:
Then there are those that are distorted because of the sound, or lack of familiarity on the cleric's part and are not what one could really call a true Anglo translation.
Some of the more common ones that often throw people off track, thinking it couldn't be the ones they are seeking:
Celeste = Sally, Salie, Sale
Celestin = Sylvester or Silas
Ignace = Enos
Etienne = Aken
Amable = Abraham
Narcisse = Nelson
Armand = Herman
Cesarie = Sarah
Chrysostome = Christopher
Damase = Thomas
Michel = Mitchell
Marcel = Marshall
There is one important area of research that is often forgotten and I stress over and over the importance of Godparents. Traditionally, first son would be the paternal grandparents, second son would be the maternal grandparents, first daughter would be maternal grandparents, second daughter would be paternal grandparents. From then on, it was usually very close relations. If the researcher isn't having success with either parent, they should attempt to trace those with a same surname who have interacted with the family and they might find the missing piece of the puzzle.
Hope this helps,
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