What’s in a Name? – Patronymic Tradition in Louisiana

For those pursuing genealogical research in Louisiana Creole families one of the unique cultural practices they may encounter is the patronymic naming tradition found among formerly enslaved families. This practice readily explains the proliferation of families bearing names such as Jean, Jacques, Henri/y, Pierre, etc.

In many cases, families used or are recorded under a number of surnames, each one offering a clue as to parentage or ownership. For example, an enslaved or formerly enslaved child named Pierre born to a man named Jean-Cyprien Bellaud might appear in records as any of the following:

  • Pierre Bellaud [the father’s surname]
  • Pierre Cyprien [the father’s last forename, which in the past was the forename most-often used]
  • Pierre Prien [a derivative form of the father’s most-often-used forename]

Alternately, the same individual might use the name of his owner or former owner on occasion.

Presented below are census records and selected entries from the published Diocese of Baton Rouge Catholic Church Records which show the number of ways one family is recorded.

HENRI – Joseph (Henri [sic] and Marie Aurore [sic]) married 9 Nov 1867 Marie Ortence [sic], widow Cleborne [sic]; Witnesses: Henri [sic]; Frank Daigle; Jules [sic]; Joseph (SEZ-8, 11)


CARLOS – Joseph Aristide (Joseph Carlos and Marie Hortense [sic]) born 21 May 1868 baptized 4 Jun 1868; Sponsors: Joseph Francois and Marie Felicité [sic] (SEZ-6, 167)

1870 Census, Assumption Parish

1870 Census, Assumption Parish


HENRY – Joseph Eugene Henry (Joseph Carlos Henry and Marie Hortense [sic]) born 30 Jun 1874 baptized 8 Jul 1874; Sponsor: Joseph Lessain and Marie Felicie Bernard (SEZ-6, 201)


CARLOS – Joseph Carlos (Joseph Carlos and Hortense Bernard) born 16 Nov 1878 baptized 23 Nov 1878; Sponsors: Joseph Arthur and Marie Young (SEZ-11, 270)

1880 Census, Assumption Parish

1880 Census, Assumption Parish


DAIGLE – Marie Joseph Henriette (Carlos Daigle and Marie Hortance [sic]) born 25 Nov 1882 baptized 2 Dec 1882; Sponsors: Andre Young and Constance Honoré  (SEZ-11, 363)

1900 Census, Assumption Parish

1900 Census, Assumption Parish


Notice that the patriarch of this family, Joseph-Carlos, is sometimes listed under “Henry” or “Henri,” which was his father’s name. Several of the children’s baptisms and the 1870 and 1880 Censuses record the family under the surname “Carlos.” The patronymic naming tradition can be seen in the baptism from 1878, when a surname is recorded for Hortense, “Bernard.” Ultimately, by the 1880s, the surname “Daigle” is used by the family with consistency and it is that name under which they appear in the 1900 Census.

This is but one example of this pattern yet it demonstrates the need to use analytical thinking when pursuing the trail of your ancestors.

Sources: Diocese of Baton Rouge Catholic Church Records, Volumes 10, 11, 13, 14; 1870, 1880, 1900 Federal Censuses, Assumption Parish, Louisiana.

Jari Honora

3 thoughts on “What’s in a Name? – Patronymic Tradition in Louisiana

  1. Very insightful but still a little confusing. Why were they switching between names? My 3rd Grandfather was named Jean Baptiste from Thibodaux. When he enlisted in the Union Army he used his Master’s surname, “Haydel”. All of his biz transactions, property taxes, and estate he’s listed as John Haydel. Thing is none of his children went by Haydel, they went by Baptiste or Batiste. It’s been a challenge finding info on him. He’s listed as “Jean (C)” in the St. Joseph cemetery records in Thibodaux. Really confusing.

    • Some Slaves dropped their masters last name. If their father’s name was Martin and their first name was JAMES they would use the name JAMES MARTIN. Slaves had no last name and would use the last name of their master.

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