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Kimberly Powell

Understanding Dit names

By July 8, 2010

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Found primarily in France, New France (French-Canada, Louisiana, etc.), and Scotland, dit names are essentially an alias tacked on to a family name or surname. Dit in French is a form of the word dire, which means "to say," and in the case of dit names is translated loosely as "that is to say," or "called." Therefore, the first name is the family's original surname, passed down to them by an ancestor, while the "dit" name is the name the person/family is actually called or known as. Dit names are used by families, not specific individuals, and are usually passed down to future generations, either in place of the orginal surname, or in addition to it.

Why a dit name? Dit names were often adopted by families to distinguish them from another branch of the same family. Interestingly, many dit names derived from military service, where early French military rules required a nom de guerre, or nickname, for all regular soldiers. The specific dit name may have been chosen for many of the same reasons as the original surname - as a nickname based on trade or physical characteristics, to identify the ancestral place of origin (Andre Jarret de Beauregard, where Beauregard refers to the ancestral home in the French province of Dauphine), etc.

A dit name can be legally used to replace the family's original surname, so you may find an individual listed with a dit name, or under either the original surname or the dit name. Dit names may also be found reversed with the original surname, or as hyphenated surnames.

  • Hudon dit Beaulieu
  • Beaulieu dit Hudon
  • Hudon Beaulieu
  • Beaulieu Hudon
  • Hudon-Beaulieu
  • Beaulieu-Hudon
  • Hudon
  • Beaulieu

When recording a dit name in your family tree software, it is generally standard practice to record it in its most common form - e.g. Hudon dit Beaulieu. A standardized list of dit names with their common variants can be found in Rene Jette's Répertoire des Noms de Famille du Québec" des Origines à 1825 and Msgr Cyprien Tanguay's Dictionnaire genealogique des familles canadiennes (Volume 7). Another extensive source is The dit Name: French Canadian Surnames, Aliases, Adulterations, and Anglicizations by Robert J. Quentin. When the name is not found in one of the above sources, you can use a phone book (Québec City or Montréal) to select the most common form, or just record it in the form most often used by your ancestors.

Comments
July 28, 2009 at 2:36 pm
(1) Lionel E Mayrand says:

Great article easy to understand. References were unknown to us, we will add to our references lists on Meaning of Names, and to Our French Canadian Roots. Dit names are difficult to keep track of and this article covers it well.
Lionel Mayrand

July 30, 2009 at 5:16 am
(2) Dave PIERCE says:

Dit naming was also used to identify cadres of soldiers. Most often they referred to the
surname of the (military)formation as a hailing recognition factor. In the confusion
of battle, it was always necessary to be able
to direct the formation to a particular action
for succesful maneuvering. As the dit naming
would recognize “Andre Jaret Dit Beauregard” it further identified Andre Jaret as a soldier
of the unit that was directed by the “Beauregard” commander or possibly by the captain whose surname was BEAUREGARD . These
were some of the basic tenets of battlefield
tactics that were among the first rules that
an officer had to learn.

March 31, 2010 at 3:22 pm
(3) Jennifer Grandchamp says:

Thanks for the clear explanation…I’ve been looking for an article to share with my non-genealogy junkie relatives to explain to them why our surname is what it is..I’m tired of hearing that we’ve got Native American blood..Appreciate you sharing..

Regards,
Jenny

July 14, 2010 at 12:03 pm
(4) Joan Miller (Luxegen) says:

Thank you for the clear explanation of the French Dit names, especially the fact Dit names were used in Scotland too.

-Joan

July 18, 2010 at 4:18 pm
(5) michael says:

Maybe you can assist me with my ancestral “dit” mystery. My 4th generation great grandfather name was Mathieu Devaux dit Platillo. Born in Marseilles, france came to spanish colonial louisiana sometime around 1763-1770. First discovered on a militia list in the city of New Orleans Louisiana 1770.

I am a bit confused by the use of the dit Platillo. It was used twice in two documents while he was still actively involved in militia service however all other documents found after 1783 has only his name Mathieu Devaux.

You mention dit could refer to a particular trade. Someone once told me Platillo had to do with the silver trade. any suggestion on figuring out this mystery.
thanks
michael

July 26, 2010 at 9:42 pm
(6) Al says:

dit names are also found in Italy according to genealogy.about.com

July 30, 2010 at 2:39 pm
(7) Delilah says:

I am trying to take quiz 3 – intro to genealogy. When I answer No. 6 and submit, the screen goes to learn research and not the answer and question 7. Help!

September 20, 2010 at 12:30 pm
(8) Trista says:

Thank you, i have been trying to figure out whats
with the Dit names.
This helps alot.
Thanks again
Trista

January 24, 2011 at 8:09 am
(9) Bill Pommenville says:

A free source for dit names is the American-French Genealogical Society website. The site has a section for Surnames – French-Canadian Variants, Dit, Anglicization, etc. Also a section for Given Names French-Canadian: English Variants, Anglicization’s, Latin

October 13, 2011 at 11:15 pm
(10) Darlene Dionne says:

I’ve started keeping a cross-reference of some of the French Canadian names. It’s a simple Excel spreadsheet format, and lists known names and variations of many names. I keep adding to it as I enter names in the software. As a result of the chart, I’ve discovered up to 8 variations, not just switching places with 2 names, but 8 different variations and up to 20 variations if I include the patterns used in the article. And since it’s in Excel, I can easily alphbetize and sort the names too. Thanks for the article.

April 5, 2012 at 3:20 pm
(11) UtegeLutDueks says:

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April 19, 2012 at 1:57 pm
(12) Sharon says:

this is the only web site that has given me a good understanding of the word dit. This gives me a better understanding with my genealogy.

Many Thanks
Sharon

July 4, 2012 at 12:20 am
(13) SimonnePlanagan71 says:

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December 27, 2012 at 2:42 pm
(14) bonnie says:

Bravo! and merci, very helpful article.

September 16, 2013 at 3:19 pm
(15) Romeo Beaulieu says:

My dad Philippe Theophile Beaulieu was born on the Hudson River and his dad was Theophile Beaulieu his wife was Alice Marie Beaulieu they lived at Squatec Quebec. We are related to Pierre Hudon dit Beaulieu and I have a Metis card, so if we are Canadian native or American native because Poerre Hudon dit Beaulieu was found in the Red Lake Chippewa Indians when they had a fur trading post on the reserve

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