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Myths - Legends and Name Spelling Variations

Spelling variations and "dit" names
Rita Elise Plourde
  • There are two reasons why there are so many variant spellings of some names.
  • First: most of the citizens of the 1600-1800 were illiterate. Of these, a precious few could sign their names. However, the priests,seminarians,missionaries, monks & nuns were the most educated groups in the citizenry. Only an elite few were educated beyond what we, today, would consider a basic elementary education.
  • Consequently, many of the clerics & notories, who under the French system of administration were charged with recording "vital statistics" wrote the names as they knew them to be in France, as a precious few of the immigrants/colonists signed them, or as they heard them (phonetically).
  • That is why one sees Garau, Garrault, Gareau,Garo, etc... even amongst the sons of a particular ancestor. A good example are the descendants of Louis Houde...some of the variant spellings found are: Houd,Houle, Ould,Houde,Hood,etc.
  • The second reason for variant spellings is: As the colonists migrated within Nouvelle France/New France & eventually beyond the areas of French-speaking Canada ( ex. to current-day USA, the Caribbean, the West Indies, etc.) recorders of "vital statistics" who were not French speakers, usually spelled names phonetically, or changed them because they didn't have a clue how to write them.

(Ex. Rochefort became Rushfort in the Carolinas, Champagne became Shampang, Thibodeaux became Thibodo, or Tibodo. LeBrun was changed to Brown & Leblanc to White, etc.etc.)

  • The "dit" names have an interesting origin. The English translation of "dit" is "said". The Colonists of Nouvelle France added "dit" names as distinguishers. A settler might have wanted to differentiate their family from their siblings by taking a "dit" name that described the locale to which they had relocated ( ex: since the Colonists followed the customs of the French feudal system, land was divided amongst the first born sons [primogeniture] . Soon there was not enough land to divide any further.
  • Perhaps an adventurous younger son would decide to establish himself, with or without a family, in another area... say a fertile piece of land near some streams... he might add des ruisseaux (streams/creeks/rivulets) to distinguish himself from his brothers. When he married,or died, his name might be listed as Houde dit DesRuisseaux, or Desruisseau(s).
  • The acquiring of a "dit" name might also be the result of a casual adoption, whereby the person wanted to honor the family who had raised them. Another reason was also to distinguish themselves by taking as a "dit" name the town or village in France from which they originated... ex: Huret dit Rochefort.
Rita Elise Plourde passed peacefully on, January 16, 2010. She was a member of AFGS and contributor of cultural, or historical comments in response to the queries posed by volunteers in the AFGS Volunteers mailing list.

She was bilingually educated ( K thru college) Franco-American anthropologist, who was raised in a multicultural environment. Rita explored, examined & extol the culture of her French/Acadian/Quebecois ancestors & contemporary relatives.

Her primary aim as an AFGS member was the sharing of information & research regarding her French/Acadian/Quebecois ancestors, their culture & their legacy.

Here is a listing of Surnames French-Canadian :Variants, Dit, Anglicization, etc. "dit" is pronounced "dee"
Here is a listing of Given Names French-Canadian: English Variants, Anglicization's, Latin

The following article is from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author. Information about the newsletter is available at
The following Myths are from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter click here for his full list.
Myth #4: We are descended from a Cherokee princess.
Fact: Sorry folks, but North American Indians did not have royalty. There never was any such thing as a Cherokee princess or anything similar in the Navajo, Apache, Pueblo, Abenaki, or other tribes. When Pocahontas went to England, the publicists of the seventeenth century claimed she was a princess in order to create publicity. However, the title existed only in the imaginations of the early promoters. P.T. Barnum was also known to apply the word “princess” to some of his female Indian performers but, again, you shouldn’t believe everything that P.T. Barnum claimed. There has never been a princess in the Cherokee tribe or any other North American tribe.
If you have an Indian princess in your family tree, she must have been born in India.
Myth #5: Our family always spelled the name as ...
Fact: The moment that you insist your surname was always spelled a particular way, you have just labeled yourself as a beginning genealogist. Name spellings have varied widely and, in fact, have only become standardized in the past 100 years or so. The people who created earlier records often were census takers, town clerks, tax collectors, clergymen, and others, who wrote down what they heard. In the days when most people could not read or write, many did not know how to spell their own names. When a clerk asked, "How do you spell that?" the most common answer was, "I don't know." A census taker late for dinner on a long, hot, dusty, summer day may not have cared whether a name was spelled STUART or STEWART.

Below are a number of Myths that you can find by clicking on Myth links at Cyndi's List
Myth #1: You can find your completed family history on the Internet.
Myth #2: Everything you find on the Internet is accurate and reliable.
Myth #3: You can find your completed family history in the files at the LDS Family History Centers (aka, the Mormon Church).
Myth #4: Everything you find in books, in computer databases and on CDs is accurate and reliable.
Myth #5: You can learn all about your surname in mail-order books, certificates or scrolls.
Myth #6: It MUST be true because Great Aunt Matilda told me so!
Myth #7: Our name was changed at Ellis Island.
Myth #8:The courthouse burned and ALL the records were destroyed.
Myth #9:The 1960 US Census is unreadable due to technical obsolescence.

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Updated 21 August, 2010

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