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Calling All Caribbean Genealogy Experts to Solve a Puzzle - and Our Own Theory

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Dear Readers, we do hope that at least on amongst you may be able to help us with this puzzle, sent by Monsieur S.:

I am looking at records of French ancestors  from the Caribbean [specifically, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Trinidad] in the 1700s. One of the ancestors, upon marriage, adopted a second surname identical to that of his paternal grandmother. He became Francois Sellier Foucour [also Faucour], and passed this surname down to his descendants, while his brothers (and their descendants) remained simply Sellier.

In looking through the records of births, marriages, and deaths, I noticed a few other times when a marriage record shows the groom with a more complicated "double name" than his father in the same record. What I also notice is that the marriages where the name addition occurred also involved a dispensation because first cousins were marrying.

Was there some sort of practice of the groom adopting a surname that combines those of both common paternal ancestors in the case of cousin marriages in the French-speaking Caribbean (or elsewhere, for that matter)? I have tried to google to see if there are articles on this surname phenomenon, but have not found any discussion of it.

I have seen the adoption of a wife's surname in German records, where the groom was marrying the sole female heir of a farm and positioning himself to take over the farm eventually, but nothing like that is happening here. In my case, the Foucours lived nowhere near where the marriage was taking place. It's also not a surname from the wife's family. Nor is it some physical descriptor to try to distinguish individuals. And there are no other Francios Selliers in the area, creating a need to tell them apart.

What do you think is the reason for the name change from Sellier to Sellier Foucour? Any thoughts you have on the phenomenon and my guess at what is happening (but not an understanding of why) would be welcome.

 

Hitherto, we have not come across this. Have any of you done so, Dear Readers? Can you provide an explanation? Has it to do with land ownership? Has it to do with the strong Spanish influence in the region leading to the adoption of the Spanish custom of using both parents' surnames as their child's compound surname?

If you know the reason, please do write in the comments below. 

Merci bien!

 

REPLIES RECEIVED WITH SUGGESTIONS, SUSPICIONS, ETC.:

In addition to the Comment below, we have received these by e-mail:

 

From Monsieur L, a very interesting link:

Hi Anne,

I had a quick look at your query and you might be interested by the following link (Spécificités anthroponymiques antillaises : les noms de famille des Martiniquais d'ascendance servile).

 

From Monsieur S:

Dear Anne

The reason is obvious. This is a very popular coutume (custom?) among Spanish people, whereas , even today, most people in Spain have a double name , the father name and the mother's father name or "patronym. I use "father name" because , the mother, (today, officially) keeps her "patronym", even when married. In your example, you might call them, Mr and Mrs Sellier, but they remain by law Mr Sellier xxx and Mrs Faucour yyy. where xxx is Sellier' mother name and yyy FAUCOUR mother's name.

So the grandmother was called Mrs Faucour , but she was "the wife of" Mr FAUCOUR, married or not.

Very useful when dealing with genealogy!

Another potential reason to be identified is whether they had interest to be considered of Spanish origin and not french, as Sellier suggests.

Spanish ? because of local government, now, Faucour may suggest a well known family, more than a simple Sellier. ‌

I have also seen, at the end of the 19th century, 100% french people adding a 2nd name in Louisiana, only for differentiation.
I know some simple "Soulié" in New Orleans who managed to be called Soulie xxxxxx between 1890 and 1910.

The "Etat Civil " was taken on declared name at birth or death , until late; so easy to change or modify. ALL THE MORE IF YOU WERE A MIGRANT !

I hope I could help you.

PS OTHER customs in other countries, obviously.

for example : family names Russians and Polish = Romanov and Romanova
first name if the father is (say) Alexei for Alexander , his son might be Sergei Alexandrovitch Romanov and his daughter Irina Alexandrovna Romanov (or Romanova in some places)

Our Own Theory

We have read all of the comments, suggestions and linked articles to the above. Nothing quite seems to fit the situation described by Monsieur S. , at least to our mind.

  • The articles tend to be more about the names chosen by liberated slaves in Martinique, which does not seem to apply here.
  • The suggestion of Spanish influence and the well-known double surname tradition of the Spanish occurred to us as well. However, if that were the case, surely all members of the family would have followed the tradition as well. Additionally, the maternal name should have come form the groom's mother, surely, and not his paternal grandmother.
  • The proposal that the double name could be a "dit name" again does not really apply. A "dit name" is, essentially an "also known as" or, literally, "called". It is an alternate name, a custom that became a legal name. In the case of Monsieur S, the name change is clearly legal. Again, it applies only to one couple, not the siblings, whereas "dit names" tended to apply either to all branches of a family in a particular location, or each branch took a different name to differentiate itself form the others. Neither of those options happened here.
  • Monsieur S. himself mentions and rejects the German case wherein a groom may adopt his wife's name if she were the sole heir to a family farm, in order to keep that name's link with the property. 

We think this last may come closest to our own theory. Many years ago, we knew a family with quite unusual names. They explained with the story of a maternal aunt was the last in her family to carry on the family surname. It weighed on her mind that, when she would die, their line of that name would die out. When her sister's son was about to marry, she offered him a proposition: if he would change his surname to hers, so that he and his children would carry on the name, she would leave him her not inconsiderable fortune. The young man did so, and changed his surname to hers, which was Stone. He and his wife took the homage further and named their children Rocky, Pebbles, Petra and Cairn (this was California in the early 1970s). The fortune was duly inherited. The name lived on within the family. All were happy.

Could it be that, in the case of Monsieur S, the Foucour family, at the time of the marriage, had run out of sons to carry on the name?  It would be a simple thing to examine the family tree to find out if this were the case, though it would not, of course, prove a motive but merely provide a possible cause for one. The next step would be to see if, in the other cases he mentions, sons there were missing as well. This theory might also help to explain why it happened with marriages between cousins that required dispensations. Like Mr. Stone above, the groom would be of the same line as the name, through his mother, making those obsessed with its preservation a bit more comfortable about giving it to him.

Do let us know, Monsieur S., what your examination of the family tree reveals. Do the brides all have a dearth of uncles and brothers?

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

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