What if our family name had nothing to do with the Army or with the Marine?

Whenever I asked my paternal grand-mother where did our strange family name came from, she talked about the Army of which our ancestor was a member. I cannot say I liked our name, but it was mostly because of a comic strip called Major Tic in the French week-end edition of La Patrie in the fifties and sixties. The strip portrayed the adventures of Major Tic a pompous liar. I began to appreciate our name when this horrible conceited cartoon character disappeared.

Seriously now, I imagine I was not alone asking where our name came from and I imagine we were told the obvious: our ancestor's military rank. "Legends are thus created", wrote Albert Dauzat (vii). Amateurs invented a myth or "fantasy" as Dauzat would say, speaking about onomastics.

When he arrived in Quebec, most probably in november of 1702, Estienne was already severely sick with smallpox.

He went to Quebec Hôtel-Dieu where they took care of him. This is the place where, for now, are the first traces of Estienne in Nouvelle France (in a few years, with the democratization of research, with Internet, we will probably find some other traces and our undestanding of his life will get enriched), But for now, Estienne arrives in Nouvelle France, ill.

The archivist nun writes in her register the arrival of Pierre Estienne Sando dit Major, 25 yo, from Lyon. We can ask ourselves how in the world Estienne became suddenly Pierre Estienne. On the register page, I left the line just above. We can see the sick just admitted before Estienne was Pierre Bertrand … As we know it will be the only time Estienne will be called Pierre Estienne, we can probably assume this is a mistake, a kind of contagion: being distracted, the archivist would have simply repeated the first name written above.

We know Estienne's mother was a Sando. Our ancestor does not say his name is Boutron, nor Bontron, nor even Beautron: he is Estienne Sando dit Major. Why would he do that? For now we do not know. "In Nouvelle France, there were no rule regarding the use of the family name (Francogene)." Some individuals, writes Denis Beauregard, took their mother's name, their tutor's name and decided later to use their father's, either legitimate or putative.

We can assume Estienne had a tutor since his father, Claude, died while he was still a child, and we can also assume his maternal grand-father, Abraham Sando, or his uncle on his mother's side, also Abraham Sando was his tutor: this way the use of his mother's family name would not look so ill-chosen.

Estienne spent only one day at the hospital on November 30th 1702. He returned on December 5th, probably gravely ill.

Once again, he is Estienne Sando dit Major, 35, no corrects the archivist, 25 yo, from Lyon. Pierre from Pierre Estienne has disappeared -and will never be back. He is supposed to have spent 22 days at the hospital. The total does not add up, but we can surely suppose the nuns at the hotel-dieu were overworked with the epidemics.

On Dec. 12th, the nun writes another time the name Estienne Sando dit Major, 25 yo, from Besançon; he stays 15 days.

He goes yet another time to the Hotel-Dieu on Dec. 31st 1702, but only for the day. He is then Estienne Sando, 19 yo, from Besançon.

One could believe he is cured from the terrible smallpox, but his name once again pops up.

For this fifth notation in the register, Estienne has become Sando dit St Vincent, 25 yo, from Besançon. In this we can notice the state of exhaustion the nuns are in, particularly the archivist. When we look at the line just above the line for Estienne, we notice the person admitted just before our ancestor is named St Vincent. We can suppose this is another contagion due to distraction or exhaustion. Estienne is still 25 years old, and comes from Besançon, the archdiocese. This time, he will stay for 9 days.

On May 22, Estienne is once again under the care of the Hotel-Dieu, during a whole week.

The line that concerns him states he comes from Toulouse, but he keeps is usual age of 25 and his name Estienne Sando dit Major.

He then needs only two days to make him well enough to be discharged on August 30th.

Like for the first admissions he comes from Lyon and he is Estienne Sando dit Major, 25 yo.

Finally, on October 10th, the name Estienne Sando dit Major, 25 yo, from Besançon, appears for the last time in the Sick Register of the Hôtel-Dieu. He stays for 20 days.

Relapses or new sickness contracted at the hospital, Estienne was of delicate health we cannot doubt it. During the smallpox epidemics he is among those who will go back to the hospital the most.

While everybody is looking for a meaning for the nom-dit Major and the name Boutron, one must go back to this episode of smallpox to understand that our name Major goes with the Sando, not with the Boutron part.

In favor of this hypothesis are a number of facts:
  • Estienne was already using the nom-dit Major when he arrived in Quebec
  • Estienne was not a soldier when he arrived; he would become one later
  • Estienne was using his mother's family name, and she was the daughter of Abraham Sando the elder, and the sister of Abraham Sando the young
  • latin was common in the registers at that time, and we can assume Abraham Sando the father was named major: the old one, the elder
  • thus the Major for Estienne was most probably a latin one pronounced mayor or maior, since in the text the archivist writes Bajonne instead of Bayonne and Bajeux instead of Bayeux.
Some day we will probably find documents that will tell us more about Estienne's family. When this day comes we may very well learn that his maternal grand-father became his tutor after Estienne's father death.

Images sources :
La Patrie, 3 janvier 1963, cahier bandes illustrées, in : http://collections.banq.qc.ca/ark:/52327/1365152
Registre des malades de l'Hôtel-Dieu du Précieux-Sang de Québec, 1698-1709, 1702, FR, non folioté, en date du 30 novembre 1702, du 5 décembre 1702; FV, non folioté, en date du 12 décembre 1702; FR non folioté, en date du 31 décembre 1702; FR non folioté, en date du 25 avril 1703; FV, non folioté, en date du 22 mai 1703; FR, non folioté, en date du 30 août 1703; FR, non folioté, en date du 10 octobre 1703.

References :
Denis Beauregard sur :
Albert Dauzat,
Dictionnaire étymologique des noms de famille et des prénoms de France, édition revue et augmentée par Marie Thérèse Morlet, Paris, Librairie Larousse, 1980.

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