French Dit Names

Are you doing any French genealogy work? Have you found some mysterious relatives who seem to have 2 last names with the little word “dit” tucked in the middle? Well, now you can figure out what that means.

In my own family, I have a woman named Emilie Montpellier dit Beaulieu and she makes a good example to work with. First of all, the word “dit” means “called” (at least in this context) and it’s pronounced “dee”. Basically, a dit name is more like a nickname as it represents what they were actually called rather than an actual given name. They were used to help differentiate between people with similar names in really large family groups.

So for my own example, her father had the surname of Montpellier but her mother was named Dupont. Why the name Beaulieu was introduced, I really can’t say (yet). I’ve seen it used as an additional dit name several times so there might be something to that. It means “beautiful place” but it also refers to make different place names so that could be the key.

You can see this little naming quirk in different sorts of French names, both French Canadian as well as in France. Some Scottish names also use this convention.

Besides just being an odd habit, it can make your genealogy research more difficult. People with two names can often end up being recorded with the names out of order and Emilie Montpelier dit Beaulieu ends up being Emilie Beaulieu dit Montpelier and you will lose track of her. Or one of the two names could get dropped altogether. It can really make for difficult tracking.

And to make matters worse, many genealogy programs are not designed to hold 2 surnames. You can either put both names together in the surname field, or possibly use one name as a suffix if your software will allow for that. As long as you are consistent, you should be ok.