Samuel Rousseau (Dépt. d'Histoire, Université de Montréal) under the guidance of Bertrand Desjardins (aggregate research and co-founder of the RPQU), has standardized French surnames for the University’s Programme de recherche en démographie historique (PRDH),” a large aggregated database of individuals, couples and parish acts in Québec from 1621 through 1799.
The Registre de la Population du Québec Ancien (RPQA) = a data base comprising of more than 700,000 baptismal, marriage and death certificates registered before 1800. Many of these were very poorly transcribed (per the Université de Montréal), and thus a methodology for supplying a standard form for variation on a surname was formed.
standard supplied by the PRDH for Marcotte is ‘Marcot,’ despite irrefutable
archival evidence that the name originated and was customarily spelled in
I contacted the PRDH and provided copies of the baptism registry entries for pioneers Jacques and Nicolas Marcotte, clearly showing the Marcotte spelling, and they kindly provided this explanation:
“This might disappoint you but we do not standardize names following a nice methodology based on a profound knowledge of French names and such. Our standardization is strictly pragmatice, and is essentially based on the most common form used for a given name in the parish registers. Although the first immigrants were definitely named «Marcotte», it happens that the name was spelled Marcot more often in the colony, hence the form we use for displaying it. Several names ended up being written differently from what the person who introduced the name used as a spelling.”
Likewise, the standard form for names like LeBlanc, rely upon grammatical rules, and not historical or etymological origin, and suggest a standard spelling of Le Blanc or Leblanc (two separate words or one with only the first letter capitalized), in contrast to the historical origins of the Acadian branch, which avows LeBlanc.
The Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online ¹ explains:
““In the case of French names, La, Le, Du, Des, and sometimes De are considered part of the name and are capitalized. When both parts of the name are capitalized in the signature, French style treats the family name as two words; however, with individuals who were integrated into an Anglophone milieu, this rule of style has been applied only when it was confirmed by a signature.”
Direct extract from the above source using an Acadian expedition as an example:
“Leblanc made a
notable contribution to the expedition led by François Du Pont* Duvivier against
In the above paragraph note the use of Leblanc, but not LeBlanc. Du Pont, but not DuPont. Duvivier but not DuVivier.
Other examples: Le Blanc, Le Neuf, La Bourbonnière, if the signature shows the second word as capitalized, otherwise Leblanc, Leneuf, Labourbonnière. With names using an estate, such as titled nobility, the preposition (de, sur, des, etc.) is not capitalized, therefore: de Guise, du Bellay. de Calmont, de La Tour, de Gaulle, des Ormeaux, unless preceded immediately by a French preposition. Example: Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, Henri de Guise, but les mémoires de De Gaulle, des poèmes de Du Bellay ² The preposition is also capitalized for surnames of foreign origin, such as in Leonardo Di Caprio, but not necessarily, if the name follows the above nobility\estate rule, such as Olivier van Halewijn. One can find numerous examples of individuals spelling their surname as Van Halewijn, in which case an estate name or place name has grown into a surname, and fallen subject to the other rules.
These rules derive from French grammar, style and standardization, and not common usage. The Acadian French, for example, were forcibly integrated into an Anglophone milieu, so Leblanc would – by rule – seem to be the standardized spelling of that surname. However, common etiquette dictates that a family may spell their name HOWEVER they want. Most Acadians Le Blanc families traditionally spell and sign their name as one word with two capitals: “LeBlanc,” and some would argue strongly that it is the “correct” spelling for Acadians of that name, while “Leblanc” differentiates the Québécois. That opinion, however, does not derive from the above-stated French style, grammar and standardization, but rather Acadian practice and family tradition. One finds many other examples of such deviation from the rule, including such notables as Daphne DuMaurier and Cecil B. DeMille. One might also note that neither seventeenth- or eighteenth-century Acadian or French Canadian colonists were students of linguistic style, and they or their notaries signed their names however they wished, sometimes variably from one occasion to another.
At the Center of Acadian Studies’ University of Moncton site, Acadian genealogist Stephen White consistently spells the name as LeBlanc throughout his mini-biography of this Acadian family, although in his 1992 work Patronymes acadiens/Acadian Family published by Les Editions d'Acadie, he used the more stylistically standard form Le Blanc
So, what is correct? a) Le Blanc, b) Leblanc, c) LeBlanc, d) all of the above.
Answer: d) all of the above.
The Université de Montréal’s Department of French Studies and Linguistics advises that however an ancestor signed his or her own name takes preference; therefore in both of the above instances the non-standard form is actually more appropriate. The two-word Le Blanc spelling tends to be a more traditional and grammatical French spelling, but a general rule is not always conclusive, rather just more of a useful too in searching names indices and databases where the names have been standardized.
¹ - The Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online is a Internet version of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography/Dictionnaire biographique du Canada (DCB/DBC), a major research and publishing project launched by the University of Toronto and the Université Laval in 1959.
Typographie française en ligne, Synapse Développement, éditeur du correcteur orthographique et grammatical Cordial.