Origin and evolution of surnames6 January 2015 0 By Florian Proulx
Their appearance took place, generally, about a thousand years ago, that is during the Middle Ages. They all come from an individual nickname that defines our ancestor. These surnames can all be classified into four broad categories:
- Surnames evoking the baptismal name of the head of the family: Jehan Martin, it is Jehan, son of Martin, thus patronyms André, Benoit, Bertrand, Clement, Jean, Mathieu, Paul, Raymond, Richard, etc.
- Surnames evoking geographical origin or location; it can be linked, either to a neighborhood (Laberge, Duchesne, Duguay (ford), Dubois, Boisvert, etc.) or to a provenance (Langlois / Langlais, Lebreton, Normand / Lenormand or Manseau ie Mans, France … )
- Surnames translating the trade which are, for the most part, related to the agricultural life or the craft industry:
- Bergeron: diminutive of shepherd, keeper or sheep breeder
- Boulanger: bread maker
- Minier: mine worker
- Métivier: harvester/keeper of a farm
- Pelletier: who makes or sells furs
- Prévost: warlord deformation, judicial officer, etc.
- Surnames born of a sobriquet, reflecting a physical, moral or social quality of the original ancestor (Bossu, Chauvin, Leblond, Leroux, Courtois, Lebon, Ledoux, Lavertu, etc.)
Some regions of France have kept the mark of descent, as the Berry (straddling countries of Langue d’Oc and oïl) where we find: Ageorges, Aubernard, Alamartine, etc. (son to George, son to Bernard, etc.)
In Quebec, there are surnames of this type which are however of British origin including Johnson, Robinson, Peterson, etc.
As for first names, in France (and probably in Quebec as well), seven out of ten most common names match the baptismal name of the original ancestor (Martin, Rolland, Thomas, Durand …) All still exist as first names, except Durand who is no longer given. The proportion of surnames that are old names of baptism is 60% but most of them are currently forgotten, which explains why the names from a “first name” do not seem to have such a large number. Indeed, who today would name his son or daughter: Archambault, Bonnet, Gaultier, Berthelot …? Nobody, and yet all these names are old first names, but they survive only through our surnames.
For those who would be interested, below a list of first names of the Middle Ages:
Female: Agathe Aliénor Alix Anatasie Ariane Aude Aure Aurore Blanche Brunehaut Camille Catherine Clémence Clothilde Colombe Constance Cunégonde Cyrielle Eléonore Emma Ermeline Eulalie Flore Genièvre Iseult Jeanne Jehanne Justine Mahaut Malvina Margaux Margot Marguerite Mathilde Mélisende Tiphaine
Male: Adelphe Adrien Anthèlme Arnaut Arthur Aurèle Barthelemy Bartholomé Baudoin Béranger Bertrand Clément Clotaire Clovis Colin Enguerrand Eudes Flavien Florentin Gaël Gaëtan Gaspard Gaultier Gauvin Guillaume Hermance Maurin Nestor Nortimer Perceval Pierrick Raoul Robin Roland Tancrède Théobald Thimotée
It is necessary to wait for the reign of François Premier (1515-1547) so that the surnames are definitively fixed by the obligation of the keeping of the parish registers. Note also that in the Middle Ages and until the end of the 19th century, the exact spelling of names was of little importance, it also varied greatly depending on the skill or mood of the scribe.
A future article will focus specifically on the origin and evolution of the surname Proulx