Last names in Quebec: the influence of the pioneers

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In a previous article, we learned that the ethnic French Canadian population is issued from a surprisingly small amount of immigrants.

The influence of this small number of immigrants can still be seen in the frequency and variation of last names in Quebec to this day.

For example, here is the list of pioneers that have the most married descendants before 1800 (this list was compiled using the PRDH database):

Name of the pioneer Amount of descendants

married before 1800

Zacharie Cloutier 10 850
Jean Guyon 9 674
Marin Boucher 8 502
Jacques Archambault 8 445
Noël Langlois 7 847
Abraham Martin 7 765
Pierre Miville 6 552
Pierre Desportes 6 515
Jean Roussin 4 730
Louis Hébert 4 592

This list does not contain some of the most common names used today, and also includes some names that are rarely seen nowadays. This is because while some of these ancestors had a lot of descendants, most of these descendants were female. Thus, their last names were not transmitted through the generations. We have compiled a second list limited to patronymic descendants of these pioneers, which in other words refers to descendants through the male side:

Name of the pioneer Number of

“patronymic” descendants

married before 1800

Jean Côté 567
Pierre Tremblay 564
Marin Boucher 482
Jean Dumais 481
Louis Houde 471
Jean Guyon 449
Jacques Archambault 423
Pierre Parent 418
Zacharie Cloutier 391
Guillaume Pelletier 389

Let’s now compare this list with the most common last names used in Quebec in 2006:

Rank Last name Percentage
1 Tremblay 1,076
2 Gagnon 0,790
3 Roy 0,753
4 Côté 0,692
5 Bouchard 0,530
6 Gauthier 0,522
7 Morin 0,498
8 Lavoie 0,459
9 Fortin 0,449
10 Gagné 0,448
11 Ouellet 0,447
12 Pelletier 0,435
13 Bélanger 0,429
14 Lévesque 0,412
15 Bergeron 0,399
16 Leblanc 0,367
17 Paquette 0,361
18 Girard 0,356
19 Simard 0,354
20 Boucher 0,341
21 Caron 0,321
22 Beaulieu 0,300
23 Cloutier 0,297
24 Dubé 0,296
25 Poirier 0,295

(Source: http://www.stat.gouv.qc.ca/statistiques/population-demographie/caracteristiques/noms_famille_1000.htm)

We find half of our previous list among the top 25 most common names in Quebec today. The impact of these few pioneers is undeniable, even to this day!

And your pioneer ancestor?

The PRDH offers a free tool that lists all the pioneers for a given last name. If you have a French Canadian name, you can enter it here and obtain a list of pioneers for that name, assuming they arrived in Quebec before 1766.

How to determine which pioneer is your ancestor

Oftentimes, a last name can be linked to several pioneers. For example, two Desjardins living in Quebec today will not necessarily share the same pioneer ancestor; one may descend from Antoine Roy dit Desjardins, who arrived in Quebec in the 1660s, and the other from Pierre Desjardins, who only arrives in Quebec in the 18th century.

The only way to determine which pioneer is your direct ancestor is to do your ascending genealogy, starting with your parents all the way back to your first ancestor on Quebec soil.

Genealogical research websites such as Genealogy Quebec and the PRDH are great tools to go up your family tree and ultimately find out the history behind your name.