St Peter by Guido di Graziano
Vines at Cortaillod
Surnames as we know them today gradually came into use in Europe from about 1000 AD, but in some regions it was not until around 1500 that they became fixed, and were passed unchanged from father to son. In the canton of Neuchâtel, surnames evolved in the 13th and 14th centuries, and as elsewhere, they generally came from either a forename, a place of residence, an occupation, or a nickname of some kind.
Popular forenames which gave rise to local surnames included the names of the apostles, certain popular saints and the counts of Neuchâtel.
Jean - Jeanneret, Grandjean, Jeannin, Jeannet
Jacques - Jaquet, Jacot, Perrinjaquet, Jacottet
Pierre - Grandpierre, Petitpierre, Perret, Perrenoud, Perroud, Perrinjaquet, Petremand
Claude - Grosclaude, Bonclaude, Matthey-Claudet
Hugues - Huguenin
Nicolas - Nicolet, Nicod, Nicoud
Rollet - Roulet
2. Place names
Villages - Cortaillod, Sagne, Montandon, Dessaules, Descoeudres, Delachaux
Other localities - Dubied (a stream), Dubois (the wood), Ducommun, (common land) Dumont (a hill), Du Pasquier (pasture)
Clerc ("clerk"), Monnier ("miller"), Piaget ("toll collector"), L'Eplattenier ("sawyer"), Courvoisier ("cordwainer"), Cosandier ("tailor"), Virchaux ("limekiln worker")
Appearance - Blanc ("white"), Reuge ("red"), Grisel ("grey"), Legrand ("big"), Joly ("pretty"), Barbezat ("bearded"), Boiteux ("limping")
Ironical - Pape ("pope"), Roy ("king"), Prince, Comtesse ("countess")
By 1500, the small number of different families all using the same few forenames, particularly in the upper part of the canton, was starting to lead to confusion, with cousins and distant cousins all having exactly the same name. This led to the emergence of double surnames to distinguish different branches of the larger families. They were created in the same way as existing surnames, by adding an ancestor's name or occupation, etc to the original surname.
Thus we find names such as Huguenin-Elie, Robert-Tissot ("weaver"), Jeanneret-Grosjean, Jeanrichard-dit-Bressel and Ducommun-dit-Boudry.
Originally regarded probably as simple nicknames, they became fixed in time, although their use in parish registers was fairly haphazard at first. Today, we use a far wider range of forenames, and most people prefer to shorten their surnames for daily use, although official records always show the full name.
In the following pages, we give a brief introduction to a few Neuchâtel families, mainly linked to our own genealogy in some way.
Jean-Marc has photographed the card indexes for several Neuchâtel families, and these can be seen on our sister site. (With the kind permission of the Archives d'Etat de Neuchâtel.)