The dits names

This article is divided into 3 parts:

What are dit names

A "dit name" is an alias given to a family name. Compared to other alias or a.k.a. that are given to one specific person, the dit names will be given to many persons. It seems the usage exists in French Canada but almost only in France, New France and in Scotland where we find clans or septs.

We say the dit name was given to distinguish 2 different families. This would explain, for example, why there is a concentration of families with dit names around Lac St-Pierre where seigneuries belonged often to retired officers from Carignan regiment (Vercheres, Sorel, Contrecoeur, etc. to name a few).

One thing that can make it difficult to find your ancestor is that he or she may have been using a different surname from the one that you expect. You will need to make yourself aware of any "dit" names that might be associated with the surname you're tracing, and if you can't find someone under the name of his child, you may find him under the "dit" name. "Dit" in French means "say" and in this context, it means "called." In other words, a person might be Antoine Pépin dit Lachance, which means that he had an ancestor named Pépin, but he chooses to use the name Lachance instead. So he is Antoine Pépin called Lachance.

Some surnames, such as Roy, have had several different "dit" names. You should be aware that usually a different "dit" name indicates a different family. For example, Siméon Roy dit Audy and Antoine Roy dit Desjardins were not related to each other. The same is true for Pépin dit Lachance and Caillot dit Lachance - they are not related families.

Among some reasons of dit names, we find:

How to deal with them

A generic person's name is built like this:
Joseph Jarret dit Beauregard
Joseph is the first name
Jarret is, in this case, the patronym or ancestral family name
Beauregard is, in this case, the dit name
After some generations, it is no more obvious what is the specific patronym or dit name, so we will find Beauregard dit Jarret. Moreover, it is also possible both family and dit names are switched the first time someone used a dit name.
In the records, dit names are actual alias, that is, they can be legally used to replace the original patronym. Because of this, one will find the same person known as:
Joseph Jarret
Joseph Beauregard
Joseph Jarret dit Beauregard
Joseph Beauregard dit Jarret
What this means? If you are looking for the marriage of a Joseph Beauregard married with Jeanne Joachim, you may find it as Joseph Jarret married with Jeanne Laverdure (a dit name for Joachim).

Other name variations

Dit names are not the only method of combining or changing family names.
There are also errors like switching first name and family name in one record (for example, I have a Richard VINCENT who is actually Vincent RICHARD), changing a first name to a family name (there is a Claude VINCENT who is Claude-Vincent MENNESON). The only difference with dit names in this case is that the combination happened only one time. There are spelling variations so that a Bourgault would be name Beauregard in a record. There is also a modern concept in Quebec that consists in giving both the names of the father and the mother.

It is proposed to use the following convention to distinguish usage:

= for specific dit names (Beauregard=Jarret)

/ for spelling variation (Jarest/Charest)

- for other kinds of name combinations (modern combining of names)

It is suggested that this usage would occur when using standardized names (i.e. not names as found in the record, but names that a searcher would look for) in databases when you are building them in view of exchanging them. You should also write the actual name as found in the record and good genealogy softwares should allow for both names (standard name for search and actual name for printing of charts). If your software supports one name, you should write the standardized name and to put the name read in the record in a note; if it supports many names, the first name would the standardized name and the next would be alternatives. How to find what shall be the standardized name? Micheline Lécuyer, who worked with René Jetté to produce a list of dit names ("Répertoire des Noms de Famille du Québec" des Origines à 1825) suggests, when the name is not the Jetté's dictionary, to use a phone book (usually Montréal or Québec City) and to select the more common form.



A story from research:


Association des descendants de Jean Deslandes dit Champigny


It is not easy to talk about, let alone imagine a person who has not left a mark, nor a portrait, to "History". Yet even so, from the study of historical documents, from church records, notarial  minutes or even criminal records, we can learn  a lot about the life and times of the ancestor common to the Deslandes Champigny and Deland families. Nowadays, descendants of Jean Deslandes dit Champigny can be found all across Canada, as well as in  the USA, mostly in the New England states, as a consequence of the migration of French Canadian families from the Richelieu and Yamaska valleys, in their native Quebec province, to the north eastern States of the US, around the middle of the nineteenth century.

Little is known about the early life of Jean Deslandes dit Champigny in France because church records from the parish of St-Saturnin  in Champigny sur Marne, (which is located about 30km east of Paris) where Jean was born, were   lost for the period of 1647 to 1667. We can then only guess at Jean's date of birth. Since he is said to have been about  25 years of age on the day of his wedding,  in New France in 1688, Jean would have been born  around 1663.  Oddly, the St Saturnin parish records can tell us more about  three generations of Jean's forebears, going back to Saturnin de la Lande. (You will find that information from the Deslandes Champigny family tree.) When Jean sailed for the new world in 1685, his mother, Anne Delost had already died in 1676 and Philippe Deslandes, his father,  passed away four years later.

Let us attempt to picture the arrival of our ancestor in New France in August of 1685. Those were difficult  times for the colony, in part because of the political situation and ill-will between the French, the English and the Iroquois nations. In 1683, the then governor of New France, Joseph Antoine Lefebvre de La Barre had signed  "the shameful peace" with the Iroquois. His army, weakened by disease and famine, had not been able to establish a durable peace between the Iroquois and Illinois nations. The failure to do so had very much annoyed Louis the XIV, the then King of France. So, the king    dispatched a new governor, Jacques Brisay de Denonville, to the colony under orders to settle this  situation once and for all.

Jean Deslandes  became a soldier in Denonville's army, because he enrolled in a "Compagnie Franche de la Marine" under the command of "Capitaine" Jacques Daneau de Muy. In those days, one joined the army through the simple process of answering the call of the  town  crier in the village square.   Army officers would canvass French villages looking for recruits. An agreement would be reached on the soldier's pay, and  military training would be provided on an island off the French coast, making it difficult for the new recruit to desert the army.

Because the marine convoy  which brought Jean to the New World also carried VIP personalities such as the new governor Denonville and "Monseigneur" de St Vallier, (the new bishop of New France who had been appointed to succeed the incumbent   Mgr François de Montmorency Laval,) Jean's voyage to New France was well documented.Two merchant ships were armed, rigged and outfitted in the port of Rochefort. Canons were installed and the supplies required for the ocean crossing provided. The merchant ships named the "Fourgon" and the "Mulet" then sailed to the port of "La Rochelle" for the embarkation of their passengers.

The passengers for this oversea voyage were many: 6 companies of  50 soldiers each, 150 "engagés" ie day laborers for the colony's  agricultural manpower, and of course the governor , the bishop and their retinue of about 50 people.  Too many people for the capacity of the merchant ships. A frigate, the "Diligente"  would have provided more space and better living quarters, but the governor commandeered this ship.  The "common people"  then were left to put up with the unhealthy  overcrowding of the two merchant ships: 339 passengers and crew boarded the "Fourgon" while the "Mulet loaded the other 240  voyagers.

In 1685, sailors had to depend on favorable winds instead of a pre-ordained schedule of departure.. Our convoy was able to set sail on June 7th 1685. The citadel of La Rochelle fired its canon in answer  to the canon shots  from the three departing ships.  The boats rapidly lost sight of the other ships and sailed on their own  for the rest of the ocean crossing. As was the custom in those days, it was during the ocean voyage that the soldiers gave one another a  "nom de guerre" which would become more often than not the actual surname of their descendants in the New World. Thus Jean Deslandes became Jean Deslandes  dit Champigny because of  his place of birth. Other surnames were customarily chosen with reference to physical or character traits, names of flowers or any number of other whimsical reasons.

The VIP passengers of the "Diligente" enjoyed a comfortable and smooth sea voyage and sighted Québec, which was to become the oldest city  in North America, on August 1st. Adversely, the other two ships were disease ridden soon after sailing from France.  The Fourgon is said to have lost 90 of its soldiers, crew and  "engagés" while the Mulet  had to throw  60 men overboard. Our ancestor's ship arrived in Québec on August 15th  and the last ship to make it,  the Mulet, entered the port on August 30th, more than ten weeks after its departure from France.

The sick were immediately taken to the Hotel-Dieu hospital, but the Hospital's resources could not cope with this many ill people. As a result, patients were bedded in the attic, the stable, even the chicken coop, and tents  had to be set up in the area surrounding the Hospital building to accommodate more of the sick. (the situation in 2001 is slightly better) Volunteer ladies from the city came to help out the overburdened nuns. Which is why and how the epidemic spread to the city dwellers and caused a hundred deaths. To offset the loss of military manpower caused by this epidemic, the governor decided that the "engagés" would themselves become soldiers.

Once they became well again, the soldiers were transferred to Ville-Marie. Since there were no lodgings available for them in the Ville-Marie settlement, the soldiers were billeted, one or two at a time, with the "habitants" in the surrounding countryside. The soldiers brought their pay, clothing and rations with them and lived as did the farmer and his  family. A soldier would quickly find out that he could increase his income tenfold  by getting paid to work the farmer's land. As a consequence, the soldiers became less available to attend the mandatory  military exercises and reviews. The companies "Capitaines"   found  this state of affairs profitable for them as well: The soldier who worked the fields was not entitled to receive his soldier's pay, so the Capitaine could keep it for himself. This way, some of  the "Capitaines" could afford to maintain a lifestyle equivalent to that of the gentility.

It is likely that Jean Deslandes  was  billeted  with the family of Jean Ronceray in Longueuil. Jean Ronceray was a widower, his wife  had died in childbirth. He was also a career officer, he had served  as a  lieutenant in the regiment  of  Carignan. His military  service over, he had  married Jeanne Servignan who was a "Fille du Roy".Contrary to popular belief, a Fille du Roy was not a prostitute. These young women came from an orphanage in Paris, had been brought up by the nuns, endowed by the King  and sent to the colony to wed the settlers of New France.

The long planned punitive expedition of the French Army into Iroquois territory finally took place in 1687. Two years in the planning, the French intended this invasion to be a show of strength and determination against their longtime enemies, the Iroquois. Denonville assembled 1000 soldiers, 800 militia men and some 200 allied Indians; these Amerindians were Iroquois, Abenakis or Algonquins from the Jesuit and Sulpician missions. This contingent traveled on some 200 flat boats, (flatboats were large rafts loaded with the army  personnel and all the gear, including the arms and ammunitions, necessary to the expedition) they left  from Lachine, sailed the St-Lawrence to the Niagara River and reached the Falls.

To preserve the secrecy of the expedition, the "intendant" Champigny, second in command to the governor, had gone ahead of  the troops on a scouting  mission and had captured the Indian enemies he had encountered along the waterways. The Indian chiefs among the prisoners taken, were the ones later sent to Versailles, to the court of  the Sun King, on galley ships.  Please note that Jean Bochart  Champigny, Sieur de Noroy et de Verneuil, was not related to Jean Deslandes., but owned land in Champigny sur Marne, our ancestor's birth place.

The Indian warriors had known that the French troops were coming and had fled their villages. They ambushed the French contingent but were defeated in the skirmish. It was then easy for the Europeans to destroy the Indian houses, fields and harvests. The French soldiers and their allies then built the Fort of Niagara  and  took leave to visit the spectacular and already internationally renowned Falls of the Niagara river.

Jean Deslandes was discharged from his company in 1688, as were many other soldiers in the French army at that time.  With  a year's pay in his pocket, he felt the time had come to marry.  His chosen  bride, Elisabeth Ronceray was 15. He knew her well since she was the daughter of his farmer-employer. The wedding took place in a modest wooden Chapel in Boucherville on November 24th 1688. Although, Jean and Elisabeth were residents of Longueuil, they were not allowed, because of their lesser  social status, to marry at the "manoir" of  the "seigneur" de Longueuil, Charles Lemoyne.

Jean Ronceray gave his daughter  a piece of his  land, measuring two acres by forty and fronted by the St-Lawrence river as a dowry. Elisabeth also received from her father a cow, a pig, six hens and a rooster.

A baby soon arrived. Jean Baptiste Deslandes dit Champigny was born on November 10th 1689. It is to Jean Baptiste that  we owe the surname our father gave us.!!!    Although our ancestor was starting  on  his married and family  life more comfortably than most  settlers did in those days, Jean did not seem to want to live a farmer's life. Even though his father in law gave him an  additional acre of land, Jean  and  his  family left Longueuil for Ville-Marie, where he became a mason. In  Longueuil, two of Jean's neighbors had been masons, so one can assume, without being totally certain, that Jean had learned his new trade from them.

In the late sixteen hundredth, several streams and brooks  flowed trough the Island of Montreal. (they are now all built over) Ville-Marie was an insect infested  marsh and its streets  not easily passable. Wood frame houses did not settle firmly in the ground and rotted  easily. Stone houses  were in great demand, and houses made of hewed stones even more so. But, Jean's ability as a mason did not extend to the hewing of stones.   Professional stone masons would usually  hew the stones during the winter months and build houses in the other seasons.  Jean's occupations in the clement weather months would have been to build walls, dig wells or build stables using fieldstones as his raw material. It is possible that Jean spent the winter months trading fur pelts  as did most soldiers then.

From the notarized documents of that period, we learn that Jean's  customers for his building services were often  the Sulpician Fathers of Ville-Marie or the nursing nuns from the order of  the "Hospitalières de St Joseph".

Jean's residence was inside the fortified walls of Ville-Marie but he managed to acquire  grants of a few  pieces of land located on the hills surrounding Ville-Marie. These plots would have allowed him  to grow some wheat  and  to cut firewood, an absolute necessity to survive the dire winters  of North America.  We can logically assume  that Jean remained  in the militia after his discharge from the army. The civilian militia men took part in all the army's operations and would fight alongside the regular troops. In 1696, Frontenac, the famed governor of Québec, replayed Denonville's expedition into Iroquois territory. It is very possible that  our ancestor joined Frontenac's troops then and made another foray into enemy country.

At any rate, the date at which Jean started work for the Sulpician fathers coincides with the time Frontenac's troops returned to the colony. The Sulpician Fathers, the religious order who owned most, if not all  the real estate in Ville-Marie, as well as being responsible to run the parish and church of  Notre-Dame de Ville-Marie, (the lovely church on Montreal's Place d'Armes  built to resemble Notre-Dame de Paris  is on that same location but was built in 1830) contracted  with  Jean Deslandes for him to work on the restoration of the  church. The Notre-Dame church was in a sad state. Inside the church, the ceiling and walls ravaged by dampness and cold, were in disrepair. Jean did the job for 600 pounds (livres) actually 9 times as much as his yearly rent.

Jean and Elisabeth, now parents of 4 children, moved again in 1698, (we know that they moved  8 times between 1690 and 1710,) to live on Notre-Dame street in the house of the widow Langlois. At that time, Jean Deslandes went into a business partnership with Pierre Couturier dit le Bourguignon  (Burgundian)  and Gilbert Maillet. Couturier is known to have been the first Canadian architect, he built the Château Ramesay, still standing in old Montreal. This business arrangement gave Jean the opportunity  to work  building  two noblemen's houses. But his associates reneged on the deal and refused to pay him,  claiming that he had not actually hewed the stones used on the houses. To recover the money owed him, Jean went before the Ville-Marie civil court  four times to no avail. The matter was finally settled  in Quebec city before the Sovereign Counsel.  (The people who sat on the Conseil Souverain were the Bishop, the Governor, the intendant  and 6 prominent residents of Quebec.) Jean won his case at last.

There was very little metal or paper currency circulating in the colony in those days. Commerce, or the exchange of  goods for money, was limited mostly to a general merchant supplying all the consumer needs of his clients  for credit. We know that Jean's financial circumstances were worrisome because in the fall of  1700,  Jean signed  a note of hand ie an I.O.U. to his creditor/supplier. In the spring of 1700, Elisabeth died from the birth of her 5th child. This unfortunate situation was then a frequent occurrence. A legal procedure ensued because a  guardian had to be named  to the heirs of Elisabeth and Jean's community of property. The inventory showed that the total assets of the family: 8 chairs, a folding table, 8 plates, utensils, some pails, farming and mason tools. (beds, clothes, the husband's rifle, jewelry  were not part of such an inventory)  Jean then sold  a piece of land but still owed 70 pounds (livres) to Pierre Perthuis, the merchant general.

The following, year, Jean wedded  Madeleine Galarneau, a young widow from Quebec city.  Madeleine brought to the union  a dowry of 500 pounds. The wedding ceremony  took place in Notre Dame church, on October 24th.  It appears that Jean's personal circumstances changed completely following his union to Madeleine. For instance,  when the couple's first child was christened,  the baby's godparents were Josué de Beaucours, "Capitaine of a compagnie de la Marine", and Jeanne-Charlotte,  the daughter of Jacques-Alexis Fleury d'Eschambault, who was chief magistrate of the civil and criminal jurisdictions in Montreal, and a representative of the King.

Around the year 1704, Jean  was no longer active as a mason, and occupied himself mostly at farming his plots of land. His purchases were  charged to the account of his friend Gilbert Maillet  because  the local merchants would no longer sell to him on credit. In 1706, Pierre Perthuis, the merchant general, decided to seek payment  for money owed him by Jean. The bailiff showed up at the home of Jean and Madeleine, who claimed that the debt had long ago been reimbursed to the merchant's brother in law. As the bailiff attempted to seize a trunk, Madeleine sat on it and called him a  rogue, thief and  scoundrel. When  the bailiff tried to get hold of the carcass of a pig  hanging from the door frame, there was Jean armed with an ax, ready to defend  his property.

No contract involving Jean Deslandes dit Champigny  is to  be found for the period of 1706 to 1710. Jean died in the Hotel-Dieu hospital on September 15th 1710. Because the hospital building burned down  several times,  no records exist  that would tell us about his  illness or cause of death. Upon his death, Jean's assets were so few  that it was deemed unnecessary to take inventory. The sale of an ax, a trunk, an old horse  would not have satisfied the numerous creditors' claims. As she was entitled to do by law, Madeleine asked the civil court to be free from the community of property. Her demand was granted. Madeleine remarried a few years later. Her third husband was Jean-Baptiste Joly. She died in childbirth  at age 39.

Three children of Jean Deslandes dit Champigny and Elisabeth Ronceray survived:  Claude became an adventurer and a "coureur des bois",  Pierre, a mason and a hewer of stone, and prospered. He had no male heirs and left his estate to his 4 daughters. Jean-Baptiste, the first born, was also a mason and a hewer of stone. To him, we owe the  survival of the family surnames. We learn from legal acts, from civil and criminal courts,  that he had  an eventful life. He left Ville-Marie after his house was sold at auction and went to live in the islands of Verchères. Anne was the only child from the marriage of Jean and Madeleine Galarneau to survive. She married a soldier, Jacques Beneteau dit Sanspeur  (Fearless)and lived an unhappy life, in Montreal.

Jean's descendants dispersed along the Richelieu valley, some migrated to the USA at the time of the French-Canadian exodus, in  the mid-nineteenth century, particularly to Rhode-Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont. But the family surnames live on in Illinois Nebraska and Texas as well.