Historical Information

History of the Chagnon Surname

The family name Chaignon was found in Dauphine, where the family goes back to the time during the era of Humbert II in 1349. The region of Dauphine was one of the States of France. Nestled between in the Rhone Valley and the picturesque Alps. It is from this area that the surname Chaignon is believed to have originated.
The family was well established in the region of the Rhone and several members of the family had distinguished themselves through their contributions toward the community in which they lived and were rewarded with lands, titles and letters of patent confirming their nobility. They branched into Lyon, Paris, and Langeudoc, the Touraine region, in and near the Loire Valley.
Throughout the course of history most surnames have undergone  changes for many reasons. For example, a  son may not have chose to spell his name the same way that his father did. Many are simple spelling changes by a person who gave their version, phonetically, to a scribe, a priest, or a recorder. Many names held prefixes or suffixes, which became optional as they passed through the centuries, or were adopted by different branches to signify either a political or religious adherence.
Most surnames appear to have had some sort of original meaning, usually descriptive, rather than being simply a pleasing collection of sounds. These descriptive names developed both from nouns and adjectives. Examples of name descended from nouns are like the Irish Gaelic names Conan “hound, wolf” and Aed “fire. Irish Gaelic names derived from adjectives also, such names as Fial “modest, honorable generous” and Finn “fair, bright, white.” A more elaborate descriptive naming practice is exemplified in the Bible, when Rachel names her last son Benoni or “son of my sorrow” and his father Jacob renames him Benjamin “son of the right hand”. (Gen.35:18).
As time went on the language changed and in many cases the words that formed the original name passed out of use, leaving the fossilized form in the name. This is why we do not recognize the meanings of many names today, because their origins are in ancient languages. The  translation of the name Chagnon means strength of the Oak Tree.
With the rise of Christianity, certain trends in naming practices manifested. Christians were encouraged to name their children after saints and martyrs of the church. The oldest of these names were Jewish and Greco Roman names. The names of the apostles and other prominent early Christians mentioned in the New Testament were often Jewish, such as Mary, Martha, Matthew, James, Joseph and John. The early Christians, lived in the Roman empire, and it is among the other people of the empire that they first began to convert non-Jews. In  the early centuries, many Greco Roman names entered the Christian name pool in commemoration of the martyrs and saints, such as Anthony, Catherine, Margaret, Mark, Martin, Nicholas and Paul. Several of these early Christian names can be found in many cultures today in various forms.
Surnames developed from by-names, which are additional identifiers used to distinguish two people with the same given name. These by-names tend to fall into particular patterns. These  started out as specific to a person and then became inherited from father to son between the twelfth and sixteenth century. Some of the specific types are: the patronymic (referring to the father or mother), a locative or toponymical (indicating where a person is from), an epithet (which describes a person in some way) or a name derived from occupation, office or status. Out of these types occupational names are often the most obvious in a origin. Baker, Brewer, Weaver, Taylor and Smith are fairly obvious in meaning. Some of these occupational by-names also have feminine versions, which became hereditary surnames. For example, the feminine of Baker is Baxter, the feminine of Brewer is Brewster and the feminine of Weaver is Webster. There are two main reasons why there are so many variant spellings of some names.
First: most of the citizens of the 1600 – 1800’s were illiterate. Only  a precious few could sign their names and very  few were educated beyond what we, today, would consider a basic elementary education. Consequently, many of the clerics & notaries, who under the French system of administration were charged with recording “vital statistics” wrote the names as they knew them to be in France. Hence, we have many variations of the name, Chagnon, some of which are spelt Chaignon, Chaigneau, Chagnard, Chaillon, Chaillons, Chaillont, Chagongne, Chagnont, Chagnons, Chagnart, and Shonyo, but all are included in the basic origin of the surname. The second reason for variant spellings is: as the colonists migrated within New France and eventually beyond the areas of French speaking Canada (ex to current day USA, the Caribbean, the West Indies etc) recorders of “vital statistics” who were not French speakers, usually spelled names phonetically, or changed them because they didn’t have a clue how to write them.
The “dit” names have an interesting origin. The English translation of “dit” is “said”. The Colonists of New France added “dit” names as distinguishers. A settler might have wanted to differentiate their family from their siblings by taking a “dit” name that described the location to which they had relocated to (ex: since the Colonists followed the customs of the French feudal system, land was divided amongst the first born. A few of the dit names that were used for the Chagnon family was Chagnon dit Larose, Chagnon dit Challion and Chagnon dit Lajeunesse.
The preponderance of the names Joseph & Marie, or combinations with such, in the records. (ex. Joseph Charles, Joseph Francois, Marie Jeanne, Marie Margarite, etc.). It was and still is the practice amongst the Catholics of the French & Hispanic cultures (note the number of Jose & Maria amid the Spanish-speakers) to honor Joseph, or Mary, by giving the baptized child the honorary name in addition to the given (first) name.
The French Canadians have slowly & slightly changed the practice by using the honorary names as middle names. All the Franco Canadian & Franco American men who entered the military service, with the name of Joseph preceding their “first name”. The Government reasoned that since it was the first name listed on their baptismal certificate, it was therefore their “legal” first name.

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