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Old Québec customs that will be forgotten!
by Robert Jacques, Brossard, Québec

Names given to children:

A custom that existed among most French Canadian Roman Catholic families, until approximately 1950, and that is no longer very popular is:

All male children were christened with JOSEPH as their first name, their Godfather’s common name as their second name, for the first male child their father’s common name as their third name and then a name or two that was specific to them.

The name most often used by the individual was the last of his given names.

Example: Joseph Napoléon Jean-Paul Robert

Joseph = name given to 99.9 % of French Canadian males

Napoléon = my God-father’s common name

Jean-Paul = my father’s common name (first male child)*

Robert= my own name

* I was the first mal child born.

All female children were christened with MARIE as their first name, their God-mother’s common name as their second name, for the first female child their mother’s common name*, as their third name and then a name or two that was specific to them.

The name most often used by the individual was the last of his/her given names. 

Example : Marie Alice Madeleine

Marie = name given to 99.9 % of French Canadian females

Alice = God-mother’s common name

Madeleine = individual’s own name

* Madeleine, my wife, was the tenth child of a family of eleven children, 5 boys 6 girls

Most individuals use the last of their names and all use their father’s family name as their last name.


Married names and the name of newly born children

Married names:

Until the late 1960s, early 1970s, it was customary for a woman to take her husband’s last name and drop her maiden name.  Although their legal name has always been their maiden name.  From that time on women cannot change their maiden name to their husband’s last name without a special ruling from the Provincial Government and this involves substantial costs.  A married woman now retains her maiden name.

Children’s last names:

During the same period of time, provincial laws were changed. Parents at the time of registration of a newly born child are allowed to give the last name of either parent's last name or both names if they desire.

Example: Mr. Jacques is married to Mrs. Plante; a son is born from this union.  They decide to give him the names of Jean-Paul Robert.  So far all is fine, it is now time for a major decision.  Will he be registered as?

Jean-Paul Robert Jacques-Plant


Jean-Paul Robert Plante-Jacques


Jean-Paul Robert Jacques


Jean-Paul Robert Plante

Just imagine that a young man has been registered as Jean-Sebastien Plante-Forget, he weds a young lady whose name is Marie-Claire Sinotte-Ouellette. How will they name their children, if they have any

Just imagine signing the name.

The custom of giving the name of Joseph to every boy and Marie to every girl has been discontinued for most part.


Another Lost Custom, the Marriage Contract

Until the mid 1970s it was customary to have a marriage contract.  The provincial government passed legislation making all existing marriage contract null and void.  This socialist law established the rules. Those that opposed the law had to register their opposition via an attorney or notary public and they had 6 months to do so. Most of those that opposed it won their case, those that did not do so fell under the new law.  This law was written to protect women and it is not all bad.
Example: In case of separation or divorce the husband could not sell the family residence which is in his name, without the written consent of his wife, furthermore the proceeds of the agreed upon sale must be split 50/50.  The distribution of the $$$ is to be done by the notary public at the time of registration of the deed of sale.   


New Year’s Day Blessing


Till recently it was customary for the whole family to reunite at the parents home for New Years Day.  With the whole family present, it was up to the eldest son to ask his father to bless him, and all those absent for any reason. This included the son and daughters in-law, grandchildren and often great-grandchildren.

This benediction was a single day event. It could not be given on the 2nd or 3rd of January.  The local RC Church encouraged the tradition. The parish priest reminded the members of the congregation of this tradition. Now thy do not mention it, and it has been dropped as religion took less room in the family and individual lives.  It may return, as people return to church and pay more attention to religion.

I remember my grandfathers blessing their families and every time they had tears in their eyes and how they tried to hide their emotions.

My father was the eldest of his family, and it was always a solemn moment for him. Although we lived in Lachine and his parents lived in the east end of Montréal, 2 to 3 hours by tramway, this was a must for him.  We always went to my grandparents’ home, regardless how cold it was.

This scene was often depicted on Christmas cards.



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