French women keeping their maiden names

+12 votes
[[Liard-1|Danielle]] was kind enough to edit a couple of Quebecois profiles I recently created, one of which included a comment regarding women keeping their maiden names. The WikiTree discussions on this subject all seem to focus on New France, but would this have actually been a French thing? My reason for asking is that I believe I am the first WikiTreer to be working with Seychellois genealogy, another French colony. The same French record-keeping rules seems to apply - baptism and marriage records include the mother's maiden name. But would this also be true for their day-to-day life?

Danielle also commented on middle names being seldom used and it was more usual to have composite names. Would this also have been a French thing? How about, for instance, Esparon-18 or Michaud-527? I've also read about honourifics, which seem a more likely explanation for my cases. But are there any guidelines (I was going to type 'rules' but my fingers started laughing) about how to interpret names like this?
in Genealogy Help by Chris Hampson G2G6 Pilot (105k points)
edited by Chris Hampson
I find the 'also known as' category adequate for known, unofficial names, such as a spouse's, when no official name change occurred, but make listing exceptions to accommodate whatever official documentation will endure, similar to using misspelled surnames by government officials (though it galls us all to have had, for instance, our Simon line thus altered to Cimon a century ago). I list my French ancestors by whatever official name will endure in records... on occasion, that means breaking with tradition and using a husband's name. Any words of Wiki wisdom on that?
It does get complicated.  In some French families with hyphenated last names like Mauricheau-Beaupre, wedding invitations include an invitation from the grandparents as well.  All in the same envelope!
Overall in my research France, Nouvelle France, French Netherlands, Nouvelle France Louisianne , French under Spanish Louisiana and the majority of French Canadians practiced and continue to practice the custom of the woman keeping her given last name upon marriage. This has been the case for French women for many practical, historical. cultural, religious and legal reasons. Aberrations, customizations and different family choices from that French custom can be found.

 My French family trees demonstrate that migration from a French region to an English or American region often resulted in the French woman becoming known by her husband's last name culturally and legally.

3 Answers

+7 votes
In Québec traditionally women took their husband last name and were known under that name, in late 70s early 80s the government came out with a law that the women were to keep their maiden name throughout their lives, it seems that the number of divorce/separation remarriage made a mess in their files and it was simpler to keep one name.
by Claude Emond G2G6 Mach 1 (15.3k points)
Salut Claude, and thanks for answering that question I had asked Guy, which I suspected was a fairly recent consideration. That suggests only recent names fall under the guideline, and should not be retroactive. This having being legislated should follow the principle that a legal definition/designation cannot apply retroactively to any subject matter issued before the date of the definition...
The legal foundation goes back to the French revolution when the legal principle that a person was born with a certain name that should stay the same was first codified in France.
Interesting and thanks Helmut for the input. Thus, that gives me some clean up to do I'm sure...
+5 votes
My official documentation today in France is all under my name at birth (medical card, carte de sejour)  

It seems  that legally, it as it has been that way for some time . As wiki article is referring to communal records from 1793 and says

 " De plus, si on cherche un acte de décès par exemple, les femmes sont notées à leur "nom de jeune fille" et pas au nom de leur mari."

ie death records are noted under the maiden name and not that of the husband.

On the other hand my neigbours seem to use married names; Mme Alet is the wife of M. Alet (not so my doctor who uses her name at birth)
by Helen Ford G2G6 Pilot (314k points)
+6 votes
If you look at census records of the Nouvelle-France colony, you will find the women listed by their 'maiden' names and not their husband's name.  All ceremonies such as baptisms, marriages and funerals also do this.  And have never stopped doing so, my own baptism bears my mother's maiden name, my grandmother had her own maiden name on her funeral record. This is before the law was changed to women keeping their own names legally.  Even when someone is something like a godmother or a witness at a contract or wedding, they get listed by maiden names.  How they were addressed in common everyday usage is unknown, since we only really have 'official' types of documents to use for sources.  Which is why I tend to put the husband (s)'s name in other last name.  That also helps connect families more easily when you do a search.

As far as the composite name issue, I couldn't find Michaud-527 without an extensive search, but did take a look at Esparon-18.  Now that one looks like he was given a middle name, or else the parents couldn't make up their minds, and gave him all the names of the relatives they wanted to honour.  There's no way to tell without looking at his own life and seeing what name he actually used.  

My main point on this was that names like Marie Madeleine, Marie Françoise and so on, Marie is the name likelier not to be used in their life, priests regularly gave it to girls, and Joseph to boys.  But these are definitely not middle names.  You may also find names like Joseph Paul George, where Joseph is given because it's a boy, Paul is the godfather's name and George is the actual given name.  But they record all 3.


I would surmise that the beginning of the Mrs John Doe actually started after the conquest here.  The few things I have read that date back to New France that were not official documents but somebody's relation of events tended to use women's maiden names also.
by Danielle Liard G2G6 Pilot (345k points)
On the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe and by the way in all overseas territories we usually have two or three even four our five sometimes Christian names. the minimum is two. You have the given name, the name your parents chose to give you and use it on a day to day basis. Mine is Jean-Marie. Then you have a hidden name connected to the name of the saint celebrated by the Catholic church on the day you were born. For example today in the French calendar (almanach) is March 13. SO the saint is Mathilde; It means that anybody born on this March 13 is using this name, boy or girl, even though it's a girl name; SO you can have men having the name Elisabeth or Catherine. it's very usual and even Marie, Jean and Joseph are a normal part of many names. My second name is Arsène, which was the saint honored in 1952 on October 30.. It was also very practical because they could  honor this way an uncle of mine whose first name was Arsène. But if I were to be born on October 30 2016 they would have called me Bienvenue since this is the name of the saint in 2016 registered on October 30 and  the saint on that day is Bienvenue which mean welcome. I have two sisters born on May 12th in different years and their second "prénom" (given name) is Achille, from the saint of that day. It's not systematic though. My father was born May 1st. And was'nt called Fête du Travail (Labor Day). He was called after the saints of May 3rd, Philippe Jacques as second and third first names. But I've heard of somebody born July 14 Fête Nationale who was called Fête Nat. lol. It's pretty interesting because when you have such strange names from a girl as Barnabé you can assume she was born around  June 11. I had a friend of my family an old man who was blind who had Solange a girl name as his name. He probably was born on May 10. Also saints change dates. You should check the calendar of that given year to be sure... But the strangest thing of all is the extensive use on our west indian islands of nick names. I recently went to a great uncle funeral and I've always known him as Julot. I discovered when he die that his real name was Ferdinand and Ferdinand wasn't even his hidden name. A brother of him died 2 years ago; I'd always known him as Marceau but his real name was Bernard. My paternal grand father's first name was Aquilin Claironisse, which is a very unusual first  name but he was usually called Maurice. it is so important that in some marriage records or birth records they sometimes give the information saying the real name plus the nickname using the formula "surnommé X en famille" i.e. "called X within the family circle". One my earliest ancestors from 1813 is called Monrose Baltimore dit Petit Frère. Where you can see that "dit" or "surnommé" means called, said, aka, you name it. I have even discovered recently in my research somebody in Martinique who's nickname around 1848 was Blanchette and the family name Rufen. With the passing of time the name has transformed itself to Rufen-Blanchette and I heard that with the passing of more time they have now descendants in the US with the only Blanchette surname.

As for the maiden surname, as it has been previously mentioned, it's a "nom d'usage". You have the nom de jeune fille, the maiden name. And the nom d'usage is the name you decide to use, it's up to the maid to decide whether she wants to be called x, y ou x-y. there's also a tendency with the younger folks to use both names for their offsprings. In the past around the 1850's, right after slavery was abolished in 1948 this was very much used by some families in Guadeloupe and Martinique. But rapidly they have gone to follow the main stream which is normally, one name, the husband's name. I myself have kids with two names because their mothers are Brazilian and in Brazil they usually have the father's name following the mother's name or vice versa depending of the length of the name, or for harmonious reasons, or whatever reason they have. On their Brazilian passports  they have two last names, on the French one only one. Mine.
Sounds like a special case, we do have children getting the name of a saint as part of their name, but usually it was fitted to the gender of the child.

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