Canada Names, Personal
An understanding of surnames and given names can help you identify your ancestors in the records.
Canadians of European origin usually had surnames. American Indians and Eskimos often did not. In French Canada, married women usually kept their maiden name in official records. In English-speaking provinces, women usually took their husband’s surname. In all parts of Canada, children usually used the surname of the father.
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:
AUDET dit LAPOINTE
Spelling Variations. 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:
HUNAU, HUNAUT, HUNAUX, HUNO, HUNOS, HUNOT, UNO, and UNOT.
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:
BOISVERT may become GREENWOOD.
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:
KRYWOUCHKA has become KIRK.
PETROWSKI has become PETERSON.
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. (FHL book 971.4 D4j.)
A few other studies on Canadian family names are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
CANADA - NAMES, PERSONAL [PROVINCE] - NAMES, PERSONAL