Researching dit Names

Up until a few years ago, I had no idea what a dit name was. However, if you are researching French-Canadian families, then you will quickly begin seeing these elongated names. The first one I came across was my infamous 7x great grandfather, Nicolas Joseph Deschamps dit Cloche. Since I don’t read French, I remember reading dit Cloche and not even paying attention to it. I should have paid attention.

Dit names are common among French-Canadians and are fairly frequent in the 18th and 19th centuries. Dit names are nicknames that the person takes on to differentiate themselves from someone else. Or perhaps they are simply a nickname. However, if there are a number of people in the same community with the last name Deschamps, but one was a farmer, they may be called Nicolas Joseph Deschamps dit Ferme (farm in French.) Yet, Nicolas had a different dit name…Cloche. Cloche is bell in French, but it is also a “transparent plant cover used outdoors especially for protection against cold.”

Nicolas Joseph was a farmer in Nova Scotia and Ille St. Jean (Prince Edward Island) so perhaps the dit Cloche was in reference to the definition of cloche regarding the gardening device. Or perhaps he lived near a bell or rang a bell or was shaped like a bell. I don’t know and I’m not sure we will ever know.

Many families carried using the dit name in future generations, though this didn’t happen for Nicolas Joseph’s descendants. His family continued using Deschamps, including my 6x great grandfather Joseph Philippe. It wasn’t until my great grandfather, George Arthur Deschamps, decided to Anglicize the name to Fields in the early 20th Century that my maternal line ceased using Deschamps, and only Deschamps.

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