In a previous post, I used a French Canadian “dit” name. Dit roughly translated is “says” and means AKA, also-known-as, or nickname. When you have large families living in one area and giving each other all the same first names, a nickname for the last name is a handy thing. It can also be the result of a nickname from a regiment or other identifier.
My ancestor, Andre Barsa dit LaFleur was in the Carignan-Saliere Regiment. In The Good Regiment by Jack Verney, his division didn’t seem to take LaFleur as a regimental nickname. So far I don’t know its origin. Andre’s grandchildren begin to take Gagean instead of Barsa/Breza/Berza/Berserat as their surname but retain the dit LaFleur. There’s a story there, a trip to Bibliothèque Archives nationales Québec in Montréal is in order.
In the meantime, do “dit” names impact research? YES! We’re at the mercy of the priests and indexers and probably to the individuals themselves. I have seen where they use both names, or one, or the other. Spellings vary wildly. So the individuals and the priests are in play for these problems. The priests’ handwriting or condition of the record make the indexers jobs that much harder. What will happen when no one is taught cursive anymore? Who will read the records? And this is just in Canada.
Once the individuals came to the United States, the priests and town clerks recorded only one name. Individuals often kept to one name although in Hooksett, NH, I have seen some individuals and families switch between their names, along with anglicized versions, early on. I often check a great list compiled by the American French Genealogical Society in Woonsocket, Rhode Island: http://www.afgs.org/ditnames/index1.html I can easily see if the two names might even be connected. Then I track the family members under both names as much as I can, going back to the last Canadian generation as well, and only when there is too much coincidence, feel comfortable that the two names go together.
Another clue mentioned to me by a researcher at American Canadian Genealogical Society in Manchester, New Hampshire is that the “dit” name is usually a compound word, i.e. DuFord, LaFleur, LaRonde, etc.
As kids, when Guy LaFleur was a dominant player on the Montreal Canadians, my siblings and I joked that he was “Cousin Guy.” I have since found out that his dit name is Birolou. He’s probably a cousin way back to Zacharie Cloutier along with everyone else, but he’s not a Gagean/Breza dit LaFleur.
If your last name is LaFleur, don’t just assume we’re close cousins. We might be; careful research will reveal the truth.