Canada Personal Names

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Understanding customs used in surnames and given names can help you identify your ancestors in records. Learn to recognize name variations and see clues in names.

Personal Names Articles[edit | edit source]

Europeans followed the naming customs of their mother country. For more information, see:

Surnames[edit | edit source]

Canadians of European origin usually had surnames. American Indians and Eskimos often did not.

Alias Surnames ("dit")[edit | edit source]

In French-speaking areas of Canada, individuals may have taken a second surname. In the records this may be preceded by "dit". This common practice was to distinguish between families with common surnames like ROY who were not related at all, or to distinguish between branches of the same family. Sometimes a branch of the family adopted the dit name as the family name, and dropped the original surname. For example, the surname AUDET dit LAPOINTE may be listed in these ways:


See Dit Names in Canada for a collection of name variations for French-Canadian genealogical researchers.

Surname Changes of Immigrants[edit | edit source]

As Immigrants moved into English-speaking countries, their surnames were impacted in a variety of ways.

  • Most of the time the surname spelling changed to accommodate the different phonetic spelling in the English language. In other words, the recorder tried to write the name the way he heard it.
  • Surnames may also have been translated outright into English, sometimes with a slight twist.
  • Within the community, such as the local parish, immigrants may continue to use the original name, while at the same time using English-language equivalents when dealing with local government, census takers, and other English speakers.
  • Different branches of the same family may adopt various surname spellings.
  • Prior to 1900, formal surname changes documented in local court records are relatively rare.
  • During the early 20th Century, especially the World War I era, surname changes are recorded more frequently, as immigrants or, more often, their children, tried to adopt more neutral surnames.

Examples[edit | edit source]

Spellings of surnames were not standardized until very recently. With their silent letters, French surnames especially lend themselves to a wide variety of spellings.

  • The name HUNAULT, for example, has been written more than a dozen different ways, all with the same or similar pronunciations, including:
  • In French Canada, phonetic spelling has changed names:
  • The English name FARNSWORTH became PHANEUF.
  • The German name RISING became RAIZENNE.
  • When French Canadian families move to English-speaking areas, they may translate their names into English, or modify spelling:
ROY may become KING.
LEBLANC may become WHITE.
AUCLAIR may become O’CLARE.
  • Recent immigrants from central Europe have often modified their names to sound more British:

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

Most French Canadian and many Acadian family names and their dit-name equivalents are listed in:

  • Jetté, Rene, and Micheline Lécuyer. Répertoire des noms de famille du Québec, des origines à 1825. (Inventory of Quebec Family Names from the Beginning to 1825.) Montréal: Institut Généalogique J.L. et Associés, Inc., 1988. (Family History Library book 971.4 D4j.) At various libraries (WorldCat)

FamilySearch Library[edit | edit source]