English Surnames and Their French Equivalents

If you have French-Canadian ancestry, as I do, and have tried to trace your family tree back into Quebec or Acadia, you may have encountered difficulties with name changes. When many of the French-speaking people moved to areas where English was the predominant language, they often adopted new surnames that were often based upon their French surnames.

Some were obvious, such as the surname Leblanc being changed to White. Both words mean the same thing. Other changes were a bit more difficult for the non-French-speaking descendant to decode, such as the French name Courtemanche being Anglicized to Shortsleeve. Courtemanche apparently is a nickname derived from the French words court (meaning short) + manche (meaning sleeve).

I once met Boston newsman Joe Shortsleeve and asked him the origins of his name. I had never imagined a French-Canadian connection until he told me.

So how do you determine an ancestor’s original name? I would start first at an impressive list of English surnames and their French equivalents at the Quebec Project GenWeb at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~canqc/alias/angloabc.htm.

Note: People are people and each person had his or her own reasons for changing a name. I doubt if the list is 100% accurate but it does list the more common name changes. I am sure there must have been exceptions.

21 Comments

My daughter’s great-great-grandmother was born in Quebec. I could not find her until I realized that the surname of Hill was Deco’teau in French Quebec.

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I have what I think is a French ancestor in 1670s Maryland with the surname on a document as “DuSharoone.” This later became “Disheroon” (sometimes with an “ar”), and by the time it got to my 3rd great-grandmother, the surname had devolved to “Dishroom.” That is what I began my search with in the mid-1800s.

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My last name (Young) was changed by Firmin YON b. 1844, son of Julian GUYON (descendants of Jean Guyon, the original settler). Firmin came from Quebec to Slatersville, RI USA in 1858 at age 14 (without his family) and by 1870 he appears on the Acworth, Sullivan Co. NH census as Freeman Scott Young. What I wouldn’t give to know the events of those 12 years, including when/where he changed his name! I never see “Young” mentioned as a derivative of Guyon/Dion/Yon, but it is. And there are A LOT of us! 🙂

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My Lambert surname has been anglicized into Lumbra, Lumbard, and Lombard among others according to records I have found. Ancestor Eustache Lambert’s name in Highgate, Vermont town records is Justin Lumbard.

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Of course pronounciations are changed too. My mother told me that her grandmother’s name was “four near” and that that was the only way that she ever heard it. Turned out to be “Fournier” and the spelling had never been changed

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It’s have found the surname database to be useful and I
Think accurate in tracing names from Europe to the British
Isles. They are very careful in noting when a name has not
been researched.

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Too bad the links to the coordinator are broken.

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Bruce Butterfield March 3, 2015 at 1:59 pm

When a customer of mine mentioned a Butterfield in his ancestry, I did some research and discovered many Dutch names, including that of his grandmother.
In an Illinois library I found a small book on that family. The father explained that when people saw his name -Buitevelt- they couldn’t figure out how to pronounce it and if they heard it, they couldn’t spell it correctly.
When he complained of this to an uncle, that person said ” Do what I did- change it to Butterfield”. And that is what happened.

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David Paul Davenport March 3, 2015 at 2:50 pm

I suppose this applies to some folks from Scotland. I happen to be descended from John White of Killwining, and his ancestor was a French Huguenot immigrant named LeBlanc.

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My wife’s was Jardine from Dumfries. Sounds a little French maybe Huguenot.

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Now if someone would only explain to me what “dit” names are…..

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My MIL said my husband’s ancestors were from Three Rivers, Quebec, and she couldn’t find it on a map. I looked at a map of Quebec for 3 rivers coming together, and there it was, Trois-Rivières.

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In the seemingly controversial book “Jews and Muslims in British Colonial America” by Elizabeth Hirschman and Donald Yates, McFarland, 2012, p. 43 it is stated that “Recent scholarship has also brought to light the presence of Converso Jews among the French colonists in North America. …..several of these- such as Arnau, Alexander, Brandon, Cassel (Casal- a sept of clan Kennedy), and Noble- in the British colonies as well.”

A list is then given titled “Some French Canadian Sephardic Surnames” which includes:

“Allaire, Bellemare, Bernard, Bilodeau, Boucher, Bourgeois, Case, Charpentier, Chollete, Dockes, Dube, Dugas, Eblinaer, Forcier, Gauvrit, LaFleur, Lafond, LaMont, LaRochelle, LeBlanc, Levinge, Lovers, Marion, Martin, Michaud, Moores, Payeur, Pelland, Plante, Trottier, Vaudrin, Vigil, Vizenor, Wisener”.

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    About half of those are my lines. Maybe I should do a DNA test?

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    I am very skeptical of this list. I know my Martin dit Pelland ancestors came from Brittany, the Celtic part of France. All of my Y-DNA matches have been from Celtic parts of the British Isles. The only French-Canadian name that I know of that may have Jewish origins is Gélinas dit Lacourse.

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Mom said her mother’s maiden name was Bercher or Barsha and I found a church record that it was Bercier, from French speaking Switzerland. It’s easy to see how someone speaking only English and taking the Census could make the mistake.

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The Shortlsleaves was an obvious name to me me. There are many such tranlsations in the US. Some are very imaginative: Frappier became Strikefoot in NY (frapper= to strike, pied=foot). Beauparlant became Wellspeak in MA. Beauchemin is Goodroad. Fournier is Fuller. Both Desjardins and Gagné can become Gardner. Boulanger and Bélanger can both be Baker. Meunier becomes Miller. Lefevbre becomes LaFever or Bean. Other transformations are phonetic: Lacaillade became Lackyard. Taillon became Tyo in Massena NY. Berthiaume becomes Barcomb. Pelletier is Pelkey. Gauthier is Gokey. Éthier is Hickey. Desautels becomes Disotell or DesHotels (autel means alter, while hôtel is a hotel). Lapalme becomes Lapanne. Beaulieu become Bolio. Fagnant became Fanyou. Pariseau becomes Parazoo in Oregon. Létourneau becomes LeTourneau and Blackbird (étourneau means starling). Dauphinais becomes Duffney. Hétu became Itchue. Geoffroy became Jeffrey. Camaraire became Cameron in Vermont. Branconnier became Brockney. Saint-Onge becomes Santor, while Saint-Amand becomes St. Thomas. Therrien can be Landers, Farmer and Thériault. Sometimes the names take on another ethnicity: Aucoin becomes both O’Quinn and Wedge (coin means corner). Auger becomes O’Shea and Vincelette becomes Van Sleet. In Connecticutt, Desnoyers became Warner, elsewhere, it became Hickory. In Rhode Island, Gadoury became Gadrow. Even actor Jim Carrey descends from the French-Canadian Carré.

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There are many people with the last name Blay or Blays that do not know it comes from the Quebecois Blais.

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I have Gelinas and Robert as well as some of the other names that may be linked to Crypto Jews. I had my DNA tested and it showed no Jewish ( European Jew) or Middle Eastern DNA. However it shows 12% Iberian Penninsula. I have heard that Sephardic Jews DNA won’t show European Jewish DNA.

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My ancestors came from the Quebec area around 1838. They moved to my hometown on the Northeastern New York/Canadian border and changed their surname from Guillemette to Gilbert. I’ve seen Guillemette defined as “to quote” but does it have any real relationship to the surname Gilbert? I’m in a Y-DNA Gilbert group and I don’t seem to be closely related to any other group of Gilberts. I suppose that isn’t a surprise but it is curious.

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