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FGB Free Clinic - Case no. 6 - Surname To Place Name To Surname

Petits Soins

We have been asked by a Dear Reader to help discover the origins and meaning of his surname, which is Labrunière, not a common name. We thought that the search process might be of interest to others seeking to answer the same sort of question. 

Firstly, one must be armed with a good French dictionary. We use our grandmother's Petit Larousse illustré, the pink one. The word brun, which would seem to be the core of the name, means the colour brown; in a name it meant someone with brown hair or dark colouring. We then did a trawl of surname sites and books:

  • We looked on Geopatronyme. Though the earliest date is 1891, which is not very early at all, this still gives an idea of the distribution of the name. A strong concentration in a single region would be a very good indication as to the origins of the name, even, perhaps, of it deriving from another language or dialect. The name being scattered all over France would indicate that it derives from something more universal, such as religion or Latin. In this case, the name Labrunière is exceedingly rare, with just one occurrence and that in the Marne. Separating the article (La Brunière) brought no results at all. Eliminating the article (Brunière) brought nine results in two towns in the department of Ardèche. A rare name indeed.
  • With such a paltry usage of the name, we thought to check the telephone directory  -- l'Annuaire des Particuliers -- to see its usage today, again checking the three versions. It occurs as De La Brunière just thirteen times and as plain Brunière a few more times, many of them in Ardèche, indicating the growth of that family seen above, probably. Our Dear Reader has no ancestors from Ardèche. His Labrunière ancestors come from Savoie.
  • We looked at one of the many books on the origins of French surnames, in this case, Les noms de famille en France : Histoires et anecdotes, edited by that indefatigable workaholic, Marie-Odile Mergnac. Unsurprisingly, the name does not appear, though others based on the word brun are: Brun, Bruneau, Brunel and Brunet. All of their meanings derive from that indicating a person with brown hair.

There is a castle with the name Labrunière. There is a family linking the name to the de Medicis. Both are very tempting, but our Dear Reader Labrunière has no evidence linking his family to either. As this is a quest for meaning more than extending genealogical connections, we did not pursue the castle or the Italians.

We decided to look deeper into the meaning and usage of just the suffix -ière. A number of academics seem to be dallying in supposition. Monsieur Touratier in Morphologie et morphématique: Analyse en morphèmes made something of the fact that some words with the suffix mean small thing and some mean large things and that is confusing; then he wandered off into wondering how the word lumière fit into the small versus large dichotomy. Monsieur Cassagne in Villes et Villages en pays lotois announced that the suffix -ière comes from the Latin -aria, meaning territory or around a place. This would make Labrunière to mean "the place around the brown" which is rather baffling, unless it were to mean "the place around where the brown one, e.g Brun, is or lives", which is more promising.

We are much enamoured of nineteenth century academics, not only for their erudition and expertise but also for the occasional and unintentional humour of their outlandish arrogance. So we turned to the 1851 Grammaire française: lexicologie et lexicographie: ouvrage spécialement destiné à servir de base à l'enseignement scientifique de la langue maternelle dans les collèges, gymnases, écoles moyennes et autres établissements d'instruction publique by Cyprien Ayer and there found a reassuring plethora of suffix discussion, which we summarize.

  • In essence, the suffixes -ier, -ière, -er, and -aire all have been used to make a new word, sometimes and adjective, but usually a noun or proper noun. Thus the adjective originaire from origine, and the nouns libraire from libre and antiquaire from antiquité. 
  • The development of the word has to do with habitual use or behaviour. A place where there are always wasps becomes a guêpier,   for example. The habitual aspect of the suffix use has lead to 
    • nouns indicating a person's work or métier, such as joaillier, saunier, cloutier, fromager, chevalier, maraîcher
    • nouns indicating a plant, especially trees and of those, especially those that produce a fruit: bananier, cerisier, noisietier, sorbier, mûrier, laurier, osier
    • nouns indicating a tool, especially a receptacle, that is habitually used for the same purpose: brasier, collier, soupière, théière

Monsieur Labrunière, our Dear Reader who sent us on this search, thought the name might have had to do with Saint Bruno. We are inclined to think not for names related to saints usually contain the word saint in them: Saint-Martin (the most known saint in France, for he Christianized the Gauls), Saint-Georges, Saint-Gilles, Saint-Vincent and so on. An alternative that might indicate a religious derivation could be the honourific dom as in Dommartin or Dombrun. No, we think it may have more to do with some kind of repetitive or habitual use, as explained by Monsieur Ayer.

Two websites discussing local place names shed a lovely lumière, we think:

  • That on the history of Bournezeau in the Vendée has a page by Jean-Claude Couderc on the Origines des noms de nos villages. Here, he tells us that "in the Gallo-Roman period, it was common to name a place after its owner" and that many such hamlets and villages in the area provide examples of this custom, including:
    • La Brunière owned by the Brun family
    • La Borlière owned by the Borel family
    • La Martinière owned by the Martin family
    • La Louisière owned by the Louis family
    • L'Hermitière owned by the L'Hermite family
  •  Monsieur Henry Suter's website contains a great deal of study on the Noms de Lieux de Suisse Romande, Savoie et environs. He has a large glossary of place names, many of which follow the same pattern as above. There, also (and recall that our Dear Reader's family are from Savoie) can be found places called La Martinière and Martinière, La Borlière and La Brunière, as well as Les Brunières.

It would seem to us that Labrunière the family name comes from a place -- a village or even a single house -- known as La Brunière, which in turn took its name from owners named Brun or something close to that. What do you think, Dear Readers?

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy