Origin, meaning and evolution of the surname Proulx

Origin, meaning and evolution of the surname Proulx

2 March 2015 0 By Florian Proulx

(Translating note: this text contains many references to french words, some sentences were not translated to preserve the consistency of the translation)

In a previous message, we saw that surnames did not exist before the Middle Ages and are all originally derived from an individual nickname defining our ancestor. These surnames can all be classified into one of four broad categories:

  1. Evoking the baptismal name of the head of the family;
  2. Evoking the geographical origin;
  3. Translating the trade;
  4. Translating a sobriquet linked to a physical, moral or social quality.

The paronym Proulx comes from this last category. Incidentally, the following link: http://www.larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais/prou/64621 , tells us that: Prou is an adverb derived from:

  • ancient French preu,
  • from the Latin prode,
  • from the Latin classical prodesse, meaning to be useful, profit.

This next link: http://www.etudes-litteraires.com/preu.php, tells us that etymologically, preu comes from the substantive ‘prode’ which meant Latin bottom ‘profit, advantage’. Moreover, preu(x) as an objective is always laudatory and applied to man, it means ‘at the top of the hierarchy of moral values’. The content of these moral values evolves with mentalities: in the twelfth century, it is about warlike values and this adjective is synonymous with ‘valiant’. Then, this adjective glides towards aesthetic or moral notions with the meanings of ‘polite’, ‘noble’, ‘beautiful’, etc. Finally, in Middle French, it can mean ‘in good health’.

As an adverb (prou), it has the meaning of ‘many’ or ‘good’ as it refers to quantity or value.

Nowadays, the adverb is preserved only in the expression more or less (literally ‘little or much’). As an objective, the term ‘preux’ has become rare.

To continue, this link http://www.expressio.fr/expressions/peu-ou-prou.php tells us the following :

We all know that “peu” means ‘not much’ or ‘not enough’. What about ‘prou’?
This adverb which means ‘much’ or ‘enough’ and dates from the thirteenth century, comes from the word ‘prou’ which meant ‘profit’[1].
In the XVIIe century, we said “avoir prou de quelque chose” to say that we had a lot of something.
Since then, the word has fallen into disuse and is only used in the current expression appeared around 1600, while before, it was said “ni peu ni prou” to say “ni peu ni beaucoup“.
[1] Jean de la Fontaine, in “le paysan qui avait offensé son seigneur” wrote :
« Or buvez donc, et buvez à votre aise ; Bon prou vous fasse ! Holé, du vin, holé ! »

Example: « Quand le moment est venu de payer, voyez-vous, ça sent toujours le voleur peu ou prou, comme on dit (…) »   René Boylesve in L’enfant à la balustrade

On this other site: http://www.notrefamille.com/dictionnaire/expressions/peu_ou_prou -> it reads that this adverb which means “much” or “enough” dates from the thirteenth century, comes from the name “prou” which meant “profit”. In the seventeenth century, it was said to have “avoir prou de quelque chose” to say that we had a lot. “Neither little nor more” was formerly translated as “neither little nor much”. If one literally respects the text “Peu ou prou” means little or much, so more or less.

According to another possibly complementary hypothesis, the name of Proulx seems to come phonetic adaptations following the movements of ancestors between France and Bretagne, between the eleventh and the sixteenth century.

Thus, the original name “Préaux” (deformation of brave?). The Préaux would have followed Guillaume the Conqueror in Brittany in 1060. The name “Préaux” would gradually become “Prowles” in the phonetics of the local language. At the time of the wars of religion a few centuries later, the Prowles (Preaux) would have returned to France where their name would be Frenchized in Proulx or Prou sometimes.

Source: Michèle Clément, at the following link http://lequebecunehistoiredefamille.com/

Finally, (and this is my hypothesis) it is very plausible that originally the surname was sometimes Preu(x) (adjective) sometimes Prou (adverb) or indistinctly or as a local variant. It may also be that two surnames appeared around the same period, but in distant places and identifying, however, the person concerned according to a similar attributed quality (we saw above that the two expressions are derived from Latin and mean when addressing to an individual, a laudative quality such as valiant, noble, etc. Then, from this (these) surname (s) appeared the variants Préaux, Prowles, Proust, Prost, Proux, Proulx, etc.

In addition, for the pioneers (3) arrived in New France and married between 1669 and 1676, the surname Prou is thus denominated on the parish registers. The fact that there is no variant as in France may be based on the fact that they were all married in a short period and in the same parish (Notre-Dame de Québec). One exception to the marriage Préaux-Fleury in 1699 and therefore a generation later. It was not until later in the 18th century than in the records of Quebec I listed Proux a few times, and Proulx finally became the norm around the middle of the 19th century and standardized as well now. Thus, the last pioneer Proulx whose marriage goes back to 1820 is registered Proulx in the parish register.

Note also that until the end of the 19th century, the exact spelling of names was of little importance; it varied greatly according to the skill or mood of the scribe.

Finally, concerning the final ‘lx’  in Prou, it is a hypothesis suggesting that our ancestors are often illiterate, affixed an x as a signature after the slash that the notary placed after the name on the act formalizing a transaction as per the following example: Signed Pierre Prou / x. To validate this hypothesis, a number of notarial acts should be listed …. this remains to be done.