In honour of my current fundraising campaign, for the next 45 days I’ll be posting thoughts and notes here about Franco-American identity and culture.
One thing I ran into again and again in researching my solo show, Piecework: When We Were French, was people who were unaware of the extent of their French ancestry because at some point along the line a surname was changed. Sometimes it was the carelessness of an immigration official that led to a change that was easier to accept than argue about. For others, adopting a new name made it possible to conceal their origins, opening doors in the U.S. that would have otherwise remained closed to a “Canuck.” Still others adopted an anglicized spelling of their French name to preserve the correct pronunciation: Hebert became Abair, Chauvin became Shoven, Proulx became Prue.
In my own family there were Brodeurs who became Brothers, Belangers who became Bakers, Bernards who became Barnards, and Cyrs who became Sears. If you’ve done any genealogical research you might have run into a stumbling block caused such a change. Curious who might be hiding in your family tree? Check out this list of Anglicized French surnames.
Future posts will contemplate what made these changes necessary and desirable for our ancestors. In the meantime, please consider joining the conversation by contributing to my on-line fundraising campaign.