Quebec Family History Society
The Military Roots of the ‘dit’ Names
by Luc Lépine
(From December 2002 Connections © 2002 QFHS)
June 1978, and we are at the Borden military camp, 90 kilometres north of Toronto. The roll call of young aspiring officers in the Canadian Forces is under way. Their names ring out on this wan early morning: Bellerose, Champagne, Charpentier, Deslauriers, Lafrance, Lépine, Potvin, Sansregret, Tranchemontagne, and Vadeboncoeur. They are all francophone future officers who proudly carry the noms de guerre handed down by their ancestors. These arrived in the country with the Régiment de Carignan, the Compagnies franches de la Marine, or regular army regiments which came to New France. My direct ancestor, Jean Chabaudier dit Lépine, left his village of Saint-Junien in the Limousin to come here as a soldier in the Company of Monsieur Arnoult de Loubias, an officer of the Régiment de Carignan.
A few years later, from 1989 to 1998, I had the privilege of working as a reference archivist at the Archives Nationales du Québec in Montréal. One of the most frequently asked question concerned the origins of Québécois family names. Extended research in military history led me down this path for the answer. You will find the results of my reflections in this article. I will discuss the origins of military nicknames and the impact of French soldiers’ noms de guerre on the patronyms of Quebec.
What has been written about this?
In his Traité de généalogie, René Jetté (1) highlights the fact that nicknames are present every-where in the genealogical history of Quebecers of French origin. They are only transmitted to the descendants of the first one to carry the nickname. Until the beginning of the XXth century, there was a risk that they would replace temporarily or forever the original family name of at least a third of the immigrants from France.Jetté noted that the reason there were so many Quebec nicknames was not clear. During an informal discussion, René Jetté estimated that the number of Quebec French nicknames was 7,500 of which 5,000 existed before French troops arrived in 1754. A great many researchers, including Claude Perrault (2) and Marcel Trudel (3), noted the presence of nicknames and demonstrated their variety without indicating their origins. In his book Terrier du Saint-Laurent en 1674, Marcel Trudel states that of the 2,435 family names listed 28.7% carry a nickname. In 1663, he finds that the proportion was 29.52%. This reduction in nicknames seems to contradict the explanation that the abundance of the ‘dit’ is related to the arrival of the soldiers in 1665. We will return to this hyphothesis.
French genealogy dictionaries are quite laconic on anything that concerns ‘dit’ names. They do recognize that nicknames exist in the far corners of France but offer no further explanation.
NOMS DE GUERRE AND THE FRENCH SOLDIER
When a soldier enlists in the French army, he is given a nickname or nom de guerre, for example Philibert Couillaud dit Roquebrune, soldier of the régiment de Carignan (4). This nickname takes on an official character. It becomes the equivalent of an identification number. The soldiers are recognized by their family names, their first names, and their noms de guerre. In daily life, the nom de guerre replaces the real family name especially when the soldier speaks a dialect or the provençal language. In the absence of a nom de guerre, he is given the same one as his name. Thus in 1651, soldier Antoine Beaufour dit Beaufour makes a deal for the baking of flat cakes at Fort Saint-Louis de Québec (5). In 1716, French military rules require a nom de guerre for all regular soldiers. The assignment of these nicknames is done in a flexible manner. It can be the soldier’s choice or that of the Company’s captain (6) During the American revolution, France sends the régiment de Tourraine to help the American rebels. A list of these soldiers has been published (7). In each company, all the nicknames start with the same letter. Thus in the Dugre company, the soldiers’ nicknames all start with the letter D, in another company, they start with B. It is thus easy to identify to which company a soldier belongs. From 1764 to 1768, the Company of Casaux of the Régiment de Boulonnois-infantrie uses names of vegetables. We thus find Lartichaud, Lalétue, Lachicorée, Lecresson et Lecerfeuil. (Translator’s note: the artichoke, lettuce, chicory, cress, and chervil.)
The nom de guerre is a personal property. A soldier does not change it readily. It can happen when the soldier is transferred to another company and the nickname is already in use. In France, the soldier’s wife will take his nom de guerre. On the other hand, a soldier’s son will always carry a name that is different from his father’s if he serves in the army. The absence of a genuine nickname is a sign of esteem. Officers, cadets, volunteers, and gentlemen do not have one.
André Corvisier maintains that a rigorous classification of military nicknames is impossible (8). Nevertheless, he establishes seven categories for which I have found examples in New France.
1. Given names and patronymics: the given name, often preceeded by Saint, one has only to think of Saint-Jean, Saint-Pierre, Saint-Louis and Saint-Marc.
2. Nicknames of origin. In 1688, Jean Deslandes dit Champigny, a soldier from Champigny, archdiocese of Paris is married (9). The following year, it is the turn of soldier Robert Houy of Saint-Laurent, native of the parish of Saint-Laurent des Orgeries, diocese of Orléans (10)
3. Nicknames based on a trade: Marien Taillandier dit Labeaume, soldier and surgeon, signs a marriage contract in 1688(11). (t.n. balm)
4. An alteration of the family name: soldier Jacques Rivière dit Larivière is married in 1699 (12). Soldier Jean-Jacques Treillet dit Latreille dies at the Conquest of New France (13).
5. The soldier’s military past or occupation: In 1699, soldier Claude Panneton dit Lefifre (t.n. fife) signs an obligation in front of a notary (14). Soldier Jacques Quena dit LaBatterie (t.n. drums) dies in 1759 as well as three soldiers with the nickname Lagrenade, all grenadiers. In this category, one can also include Merry Petit dit Latraversée (15). (t.n. crossing)
6. Names of plants and animals. Just think of all our Lafleur, Latulipe, Larose, Loiseau, Létourneau or Jean Coton dit Fleurdesprés (16). (t.n. flower of the fields)
7. Names referring to personal traits: here are a few spicy ones, Antoine Bonnet dit Prettaboire (17), (t.n. ready-to-drink), René Cruvinet dit Bas d’argent (18), (silver stockings), Jean Amarault dit Lafidélité (19), Jacques Legendre dit Bienvivant (20), Martial Paschal dit Brisefer (21), (wrecker) In certain cases, the nickname is an improvement on the original family name, as for soldier Jean de Lavacherie dit De Floriers (22). (vacherie= dirty trick)
André Corvisier has studied the nicknames of 100,000 French soldiers who were in Paris’ Invalides Hospital. I have selected a few examples.
Noms de guerre found in the registration records at the Invalides (Paris) and the number of soldiers with this nickname (23).
Brin d’amour, 359
Montigny, 58 N
Sans Chagrin 558
Sans Façon, 290
Sans Regret, 361
Sans Soucy, 891
The five most popular nicknames are: Saint-Jean, Larose, Lafleur, Lajeunesse, and Laviolette. These are all family names that are found in Québec.
At the beginning of the 1660s, the small population of New France is increasingly menaced by the Iroquois. The King of France decides to send the Régiment Carignan-Salières to subdue the natives. The Regiment of 1,000 men arrives in Québec in the Spring of 1665. It is made up of 20 companies composed of a captain, a lieutenant, an ensign, two sergeants, three corporals, five enspassades, and 40 soldiers (24).
The Régiment de Carignan-Salières faces the Iroquois then the Dutch of Schenectady in New York State. In 1667, peace is reestablished in the region. The soldiers are then offered settlement in the colony and farmland on the banks of the St-Lawrence. More than 400 agree to remain here. They form an important part of French Canadians’ ancestors. In 1669, Louis XIV creates the official structure of the militia. There are no longer any regular troops in the country but a large proportion of the population has served in the army. The martial spirit is still present. All the [male] inhabitants of the country from 16 to 60 years old are divided into companies under the orders of captains, lieutenants, and ensigns. The officers of the Régiment de Carignan become seigneurs. The former soldiers become militiamen. The new seigneurs continue to call the tenant farmers by their noms de guerre. The soldier-censitaires hand down their nicknames to their wives and children. Since the sons do not serve in the regular army, they do not have to change their family names.
In 1685, the Canadian militiamen, despite their effectiveness, cannot respond to all the military needs of the colony. The French authorities thus decide to send 28 permanent companies of a detachment of Naval Troops. They are commonly called Compagnies franches de la Marine. These troops were created in 1674 by the Navy department in order to defend ships and the French colonies (25) The pay for these soldiers comes from the Navy.Each company is independent. The direction of the different companies is the responsibility of the governor-general of New France. Each captain recruits 50 French soldiers who sign up for a period of six years. After this time, the soldiers can return to France or stay in the country.
Taking into account the regular rotation of the companies, it can be estimated that 300 recruits arrive in the colony each year. The authorities will try everything in their power to retain them after 6 years of service. Since there were no military barracks before 1750, the soldiers were lodged with the inhabitants who were given a certain amount to look after their guests. The long Canadian winters forced the soldiers to pass long hours by the fire chatting with pretty Canadian women. Thus, it is not surprising to see the high number of weddings between the soldiers of the Compagnies franches de la Marine and the daughters of the Canadian inhabitants. From 1685 to 1754, about 21,000 French military men came to New France. If we assume that the number of new patronyms in the country is 2500, then one soldier out of eight would have left a patronym in New France.
In the War of Conquest, 1754-1759, French authorities sent 14 regular army regiments to fight the English soldiers. Each regiment had 600 men. Including the 28 Compagnies franches de la marine and the 14 French regiments, there were 10,080 soldiers on Quebec’s territory. According to René Jetté, 2,500 Quebec family names come from this period, thus one soldier out of four has left us a patronym.
What the notarial acts reveal
Thanks to the PARCHEMIN data base, we have studied more than 2,000 occurences of French soldiers’ names in the notarial acts. These two short tables summarize the situation.
Notarial acts in which military men appear
Rank Number of Acts dit (a) Percentage
Soldier 1609 927 57%
Corporal 125 104 83%
Sargeant 614 378 61%
a) Notarial acts in which the military man has a nom de guerre.
Marriage contracts for military men
Rank Number of Acts dit (a) Percentage
Soldier 498 248 50%
Corporal 40 26 65%
Sargeant 149 55 37%
a) Notarial acts in which the military man has a nom de guerre.
We can see clearly that more than half the military men who appear on notarial acts have a nom de guerre. One has to remember that many soldiers waited to be demobilized before getting married.
A flourishing example…
Lafleur is one of the most common family names in Québec. René Jetté has found more than 60 family names with this nickname. The following table lists all the soldiers who carry the nickname of Lafleur and who came to New France. The original family name, the date first present in the country, and the company to which each individual belonged are indicated.
Presence in New France of 68 soldiers who carried the nom de guerre of Lafleur
Berniac dit Lafleur, François: 1755, régiment de La Reine
Biroleau dit Lafleur, Pierre: 1700, Compagnie de Duluth, Compagnie Franche de la Marine, (CFM)
Bonfretil dit Lafleur, Guillaume: 1687, compagnie de Contrecoeur, Régiment de Carignan-Salières
Bonin dit Lafleur, René: 1699, compagnie de Maricourt, (CFM)
Brault dit Lafleur, Pierre: 1697, compagnie de Jordy, (CFM)
Brousson dit Lafleur, François: 1693, compagnie de Crisafy, (CFM)
Coste dit Lafleur, Jean: 1756, compagnie Ducros, régiment Royal Roussillon
Couc dit Lafleur, Pierre: 1657, soldat et interprète
Coussy dit Lafleur, Pierre: 1699, Compagnie de Leverrier, (CFM)
Darbois dit Lafleur, Jean: 1667, sergent, Compagnie de Sorel, Régiment de Carignan-Salières
Darochenu dit Lafleur, Jean, 1754, Compagnie Dumas, Fort Beauséjour.
De Lasse de Lafleur, Jean: 1686, compagnie Dumesnil, (CFM)
Delgelun dit Lafleur, Dominique: 1756, compagnie de Bourget, régiment Royal Roussillon
Deveze dit Lafleur, Dominique: 1756, compagnie Letang de Celles, régiment de La Sarre
Dionet dit Lafleur, Jean: 1688, caporal, compagnie de Meloizes, (CFM)
Doublaix dit Lafleur, Antoine: 1755, compagnie de Reinepont, Régiment du Languedoc
Estu dit Lafleur, George: 1699, Compagnie de Muy, (CFM)
Feradou dit Lafleur, Jean-Joseph: 1756, compagnie de Laferte, régiment de La Sarre
Fleuret dit Lafleur, Jean: 1730, compagnie de Rigaud, (CFM)
Francaus dit Lafleur, François: 1703, soldat
Fresnau dit Lafleur, François: 1697, compagnie de Bergères, Michillimakinac
Grand dit Lafleur, Antoine: 1756, compagnie de Duparquet, régiment de La Sarre
Gruet dit Lafleur, Charles: 1728, soldat.
Horieux dit Lafleur, René: 1665, compagnie de Lafreydière, Régiment de Carignan Salières
Houinche dit Lafleur, Jean-Baptiste: 1756, compagnie de Valette, régiment Royal Roussillon
Jacome dit Lafleur, Pierre: 1755, compagnie de Matissard, Régiment du Languedoc.
Jacques dit Lafleur de Morlais, Laurent, 1699, compagnie Merville.
Jobin dit Lafleur, Guillaume: 1757, Régiment de Berry
Labarthe dit Lafleur, Jean: 1756, compagnie de Bassignoce, régiment Royal Roussillon
Lafleur, ??, 1755, compagnie de Saint-Félix, Régiment du Berry
Lafleur, ??, 1703: compagnie de Lagrois
Lafleur: ??, 1755, compagnie Denoes, Régiment de la Reine
Lafleurdemorlay, Laurent, 1699, Compagnie de Merville.
Lalumaudière dit Lafleur, François: 1713, Compagnie de Martigny, (CFM)
Lavallée dit Lafleur,Pierre: 1755, compagnie de Foulhiac, Régiment du Berry
Lecomte dit Lafleur, Pierre: 1708, compagnie de Montigny, (CFM)
Meuitt dit Lafleur, Bernard: 1756, compagnie de Villar, régiment de La Sarre
Meunier dit Lafleur, Gervais: 1700, compagnie de Meloise, (CFM)
Montet dit Lafleur, Pierre: 1702, compagnie de Lagroix, (CFM)
Pariot dit Lafleur, Léonard: 1722, compagnie de Gannes, (CFM)
Pavie dit Lafleur, Charles: 1714, compagnie de Levillier, (CFM)
Pemonte dit Lafleur, Pierre: 1705, compagnie Dumesnil, (CFM)
Pepie dit Lafleur, Daniel: 1709, sergent, compagnie de Cabanac, (CFM)
Perdits dit Lafleur, Guillaume: 1756, compagnie de Cormier, Régiment de Guyane
Perrier dit Lafleur, Jean: 1669, compagnie de Brisadière, Régiment de Carignan-Salières
Perrin dit Lafleur, Pierre: 1698, soldat
Pinsonnault dit Lafleur, François: 1673, compagnie de Saint-Ours, Régiment de Carignan-Salières
Pipy dit Lfleur, Guillaume, 1748, Troupes de l’Île Royale.
Piquet dit Lafleur, Joseph: 1706, compagnie de Muy, (CFM)
Poidevin dit Lafleur, François: 1733, compagnie de Lafresnière, (CFM)
Poirier dit Lafleur, Pierre: 1707, compagnie De Lorimier, (CFM)
Prevost dit Lafleur, François: 1755, soldat, Régiment du Languedoc
Puiol dit Lafleur, Joseph: 1734, compagnie de Perigny, (CFM)
Renard dit Lafleur, Nicolas: 1756, compagnie de Rouyn, régiment Royal Roussillon
Richard dit Lafleur, Guillaume: 1674, sergent de la garnison
Robert dit Lafleur, Jean Antoine: 1756, compagnie de Duprat, régiment de La Sarre
Robert dit Lafleur, Jean: 1756, compagnie de Aureillan, régiment Royal Roussillon
Robin dit Lafleur, Guillaume: 1757, soldat, Régiment du Berry
Rolland dit Lafleur, François: 1706, compagnie de Manthet, (CFM)
Roussel dit Lafleur, François: 1756, compagnie de Rouyn, régiment Royal Roussillon
Siret dit Lafleur, René: 1670, compagnie de Montou, Régiment de Carignan-Salières
Tessier dit Lafleur, Jean: 1756, compagnie de Beauclair, régiment de La Sarre
Triolet dit Larivière dit Lafleur, Jacques: 1701, Compagnie Leverrier, (CFM)
Troge dit Lafleur, Jean: 1748, compagnie de Saint-Ours, (CFM)
Turpin dit Lafleur, François: 1650, soldat du camp volant
Vermis dit Lafleur, Joseph: 1756, compagnie de Estors, régiment Royal Roussillon
Ville dit Lafleur, François: 1756, compagnie de Domir, régiment de La Sarre
As you may have noticed, there are never two soldiers named Lafleur in the same company. Without knowing the descendants of each one, we can assume that the majority of the Lafleurs in the Province have a military ancestor.
This conclusion is more of an invitation to a debate on the impact of military nicknames on the family names of Québec.
Here are the main points:
1. French soldiers receive a nickname when they enlist in the army.
2. These nicknames are personal. In France, they are not handed down from father to son.
3. During the French Regime, nearly 30,000 soldiers have trampled the soil of New France
4. The authorities did everything in their power to integrate the soldiers into society.
5. We estimate that 70% of all our French ancestors were soldiers when they arrived in the Country.
6. New France is a quasi-military society. The former soldiers, who become militia men, serve under their former officers, who become seigneurs
7. These same seigneurs continue to call their censitaires by their noms de guerre.
8. The noms de guerre are transmitted from father to son, as the sons do not serve in the army but in the militia.
9. In our opinion, the noms de guerre of the French soldiers who came to New France make up the majority of all the nicknames that we find in the Province of Québec.