This is a reprint of an article by Winston DeVille
as published in "Acadiana Profile"
study of family history is, of course, primarily concerned with family
names. But in ancient times it was the given name which was
important, having been originally devised to distinguish one person from
In France, for instance, many of the earliest baptismal records include only the given name of the infant being baptized, with no mention of any family name. Some rare examples of this practice can be found in early Louisiana records, even into the 19th century, although genealogists are grateful that such examples are few.
In Acadiana, let us say prior to World War II, given names fall into two distinct categories and historical periods. During the 18th century, children were given noms-saints or the names of saints, almost exclusively. Sons were named Jean, Baptiste, Joseph, Pierre, Auguste, Francois, Jacques, Antoine and a few other well known and acceptable names. Daughters were Jeanne, Francoise, Louise and other feminine forms of the masculine counterparts. More often than not, Marie, the most popular given name, was included, and on occasion it was used as a name for a male child.
During the early 19th century, however, a cultural phenomenon occured in Latin Louisiana, one which this writer has been unable to reconcile, one on which he has inquired of scholars whose business it is to know about such things. Yet an enigma remains: Popular given names, while often still including well-known saint names, rather suddenly were taken from very obscure saints, romantic novels, secular ancient history, pagan royalty and even mythology. Several examples are intriguing: Leocadie (the name of a Lyrical drama produced in Paris in 1824, probably with much earlier origins), Aurelia (a clan of ancient Rome, a member of which became consul in 252 B.C.), Althenaise (the original name of Eudocia, Roman empress who died in the fifth century). Cyrus ("the Great," founder of the Persian empire, died 529 B.C.), Armide (enchantress in Tasso's "Jerusalem Delivered," written in the 16th century and based on much earlier names), and Mirza from a 17th century allegory by Joseph Addison). There are many, many other examples, and all Louisiana families of French origin probably have their favorite and unusual ones. If anyone can tell this writer (Winston DeVille) how his great-great grandmother came into the name Lodoiska (Jaubert) he would be grateful. Or how about Séevola (Jeansonne) or Onezia (Landreneau)?
Two reasons occur to us for these refreshingly distinctive names, but both become invalid upon analysis. First is the 19th century renaissance of romanticism, neo-classicism and related subjects. The very large percentage of our French ancestors were, however, not literate people; there were practically no schools and they were busy being pioneers. Priests were usually quite well-read and knowledgeable men, so perhaps, as a second consideration, the priests began this practice. We doubt that. It seems unlikely that a priest would bestow, let us say, the name of pagan king on an infant. Too, this secular-name-giving was far too widespread, and certainly all Louisiana priests did not suddenly alter the time immemorial practice of honoring saints at the baptismal font. We have no answers. The obligation of historians and genealogists is to inquire, and that is what we are doing here.
Do any of the male in your family tree have the name
"Don" as a given first name? If so, and if that family
was in Louisiana during the Colonial days, you should be aware that Don
is not short for Donald (by no means a French or Spanish name), but was
originally a generic title given only to gentlemen." So
precious was such a designation that over the years and long after such
appellations were used in the original sense, families continued to name
sons "Don Louis" and "Don Richard" for
example. The Spanish title "Don" continues in use to
this day, for reasons perhaps unbeknown to present day families.