14 October 2011

<Your Name Here>

“Block Card 902 Locust Street, c1937, courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://images2.toledolibrary.org/.” 

I just found this picture of the building where my dad's family was living when he was born. Turns out the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library has an archive of photos of buildings, many taken in the 1930s by the WPA for tax assessment purposes (and to give people jobs). This was obviously the same building that was there in 1920, when my dad was born, and the U.S. Census said the family was living here. Cool, no? Amazing, what you can find on the Internet.

My dad never liked the name Ezra. It always startled me a little when his brothers called him Ez, because nobody else did. Everybody else called him Charlie, after a trumpeter who led a big band in the 1940s. As long as I knew him, he introduced himself as Charlie. He used E.C. in correspondence and such like, but Charles wasn't his middle name. He didn't have one. He just picked Charlie, I guess because it was better than Ezra.

For those of us trying to untangle the limbs of the family thicket, a distinctive name like Ezra beats the heck out of a Charlie. In Scarecrow's family, I'm indebted to those old Puritans who gave their offspring names like Hachaliah Brown, or Preserved Reade. Or Philo Dibble Bates. As it turns out, the Puritans in Massachusetts and Connecticut were way more creative in their choice of names than their contemporaries north of the border. How pathetic is that?

You'd think, with the big French-Canadian families of the previous couple of centuries, that you'd see a large number of very imaginative names, just to keep them all straight. I wish. What happened was that the first boy got his father's name, the first girl got her mother's, the next couple maybe got the grandparents' names, then they'd start handing out names of aunts and uncles. So even if 15 kids had 15 kids apiece, they were all drawing from the same pool of 15 names, generation after generation. They might be in a different order, but every family had an Antoine, a Joseph, a Pierre, a François, and so on. To further confuse the issue, everybody wss Marie-something or something-Marie. This was so common that they'd sometimes leave the Marie part out, without feeling the need to mention it. And they sometimes recycled names, even within the same family. If Jean Baptiste or Marie Louise died young, the parents may bestow the same name on a later child. So you frequently got several people with the same name, living in the same place, at the same time.

The cultural peculiarity of assigning dit names makes it both easier and more difficult to track down individuals. As I understand it, it was common in the military of 17th-century France to give soldiers a sort of nickname. Gilles Couturier, for example, might become Gilles Couturier dit Labonté, or Gilles Couturier called Labonté. Since many of the early residents of New France came from the military, it was a common thing. Another Couturier might use a different dit name, perhaps Couturier dit Verville, which would help tell the different Couturiers apart. Or not. It turns out Gilles might be referred to as Couturier, Couturier dit Labonté, or just Labonté. One (or more) of his offspring might adopt the dit name, or not. Or they may choose a different one. I guess you had to be there to understand it, because I sure as heck don't. In addition to spelling being flexible in a largely illiterate population, it's sometimes not clear, at least to me, what name they're trying to spell.

On the other hand, at that time women in France – and New France – typically kept their father's surname after they married. So there's that. One Pierre Couturier might be the offspring of Joseph Couturier and Gertrude Maugras (hopefully not Gertrude-Marie or Marie-Gertrude), and another Pierre Couturier the son of a different Joseph Couturier and Marie Allard. If they were both Mrs. Couturier, I don't know how you'd ever sort them out.

So it's a puzzle. Some future family historian may get stuck trying to figure out what happened to Ezra, who was born and lived with his family and went to school and then seemingly disappeared. And where did this Charlie-person come from, anyway? It will be a puzzle. Dad would like that.

And I don't blame him. I wouldn't want to be called Ezra, either.


  1. Interesting! I love the name Ezra. My grandmother comes from a family with very unusual names and she continued the tradition. Her name was DeCinter. My mom was named Cecil and her brother's name is Jewette. Then we have an Odon, an Octavia, and so on... I love them all! =)

  2. I'm still hung up on Philo Dibble. Wow, I think I'm going to change my name to something more fun! I've only dabbled in stalking my family but am surprised at how many change their names, and stories, when they arrived here to be more American.

    Cool find on the digitized pic. It's always quite amazing what organizations got a grants or other funding to create a digital archive.

  3. Your stalking of dead people is beginning to to tickle my own curiosity. Did you begin with any particular family or ancestry search site?

    Caregivingly Yours, Patrick

  4. Lovingall the names. Makes mine seem so boring. We also have a variety of odd names in the tree.

    I had some fun using NASA's world wind (pre google earth) zooming in on ancestors locales. Amazing what is online.

    Keep sharing your stalking the dead quest.

  5. Reading about the names involved here made me dizzy, but it was too captivating to stop. Fun to read!