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I have some French ancestors near the linguistic frontier in France - that part of Lorraine about 12 miles southeast of Metz. One French name, Ancillon, was misspelled there with an "O" - Oncillon. But that would be a simple mistake. The real problem was the name for William as a surname (without the "s" ending). It appears the name as used by the folk was a mixture of the French, Guillaume, and the German, Wilhelm. It appears to me that the name was meant to be Willaume. And it seems the pronunciation was (is?) a mixture of the two languages as well. Thus the "W" was sounded out as the Germanic "V" - and the name was variously written out a times by parish priests and civil authorities as Villaume or even Vuillaume. However, most signatures I have seen used the "W" though generally as Willaume, sometimes Wuillaume. Down in Soyhieres in the Swiss canton of Jura (but just upriver from German speaking Laufen) my Mertenat ancestors sometime had there name rendered with and over-abundance of the letter "t" or an "h" or two that need not be there. A bit to the west another family ancestral to some of my Hoosier cousins got mangled from a simple Guenat to Guegnat (which may even be correct) or even more monstrous forms such as Gueghnatt. How it managed in Indiana to settle on a spelling of Gognat, I cannot imagine. Especially, when the name is more often pronounced GUN-yah. I have always supposed the name was ultimately a diminuative of Huguenat and the "Hu-" barely got spoken any louder than a whisper. Which leads me to wonder as I have on other forums with no real answer just what is the genesis of the '-nat' or '-at' endings in some Swiss (French) names. Simply a diminuative ending for given name to denote 'child of' Hugues or Martin (Merten)?
Would the same be true of Belgium in the mid-19th century? I have attempted to find such a record for my ancestor who left her small commune, Bonlez in Brabant, supposedly for Paris (I guess the family story/myth can be believed).
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Aug 10, 2012