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"Dit" names are probably the biggest stumbling block in French-Canadian research.  The best translation in English for its use is "alias" or "a.k.a. (also known as)" without any of the negative English connotations of the term. There is no real rhyme or reason for the establishment of dit names, four brothers could have four different dit names.  Dit names could come from a placename, physical characteristic, psychological quirk, wife's maiden name, contraction of a name. Spelling variations, Anglicizations, transliterations, and translations are not technically dit names, although sometimes they are referred to, or lumped togather with dit names.


Apparently Germans had dit names, this was primarily a military thing. It may be that was the origin for French surnames but no one really sems to know.  One reason for the use of dit names was because of the small population of French Canada (Quebec) where there was also a limited number of first names being used, and to identify two people of the same name a dit name was applied to one of the individuals. 


In fact. my grandmother gave me a good example of its use in Standish, Michigan in the late 1890's to early 1900's. There were two Tom LaCLAIRs living in the area, buth with wives with similar names and large families with children of overlapping names. To distinguish them, they called them Tom LaCLAIR "the red" and Tom LaCLAIR "the black", which was based on their hair color. 


By the way, the names can be written several ways - such as BENOIT-LIVERNOIS or BENOIT dit LIVERNOIS, For women the term is dite (feminine ending). This is where it becomes confusing in your research. For example, say you have an ancestor named Jean-Baptiste HUS-COURNOYER, then you need to look at all records where there is a combination of the name, ie: Jean HUS, JEAN-Baptiste HUS, Baptiste HUS, Jean COURNOYER, etc.  Below are some web sites dealing with dit names, good luck in your research:

Spelling Variants, Dit(e), Anglicization, Transliterations, Translations, etc. (military)

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Replies to This Discussion

Running across the "dit" was probably the most confusing thing I found when I first began working with my grandmother's side. In one family of 14 kids, it seemed each had a different surname. I thought at first I was looking at a result of many marriages lol.

Once I figured it out, I realized that it actually opened up a lot of windows on the sheer number of relatives I had!
Another site with just a few names and many dit names:

Still more info:

From a Facebook page - DIT NAME BOOK FINALLY HERE - Congratulations, Gloria.
Gloria has been gathering dit names for many years. Because of her voluminous research into Clinton County family history, she has found dit names and variant spellings relating to our county and northern New York and Vermont. In addition, she has added first names translated from French to English, first names from Latin to English, occupations translated from French to English, and diseases translated into today's equivalents. The book sells for $35 - a fantastic resource!
Contact Gloria Pratt at for further information.





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