What's In A Name? (An Ongoing Series): Chenette

No offence to William Shakespeare, but a name means plenty if you are a genealogist. I like to say I come from a long line of misspellers. My last name, Shenette, should be spelled Chenette. I've corrected people trying to spell my name the "correct" way dozens, if not a hundred times over the years.

My father had five brothers and two sisters, eight in all including my dad. Some of the siblings spelled their last name beginning with C and some with an S. How did this particular spelling debacle come about? I was told a couple of different stories. One was that my grandparents were illiterate when they first came to Vermont and then Massachusetts from Quebec. They were dependant on the clerk at Worcester City Hall to fill out the information on the birth certificate. The other was that the name was misspelled when some of the "boys" joined the military during World War II.

At any rate, misspelled surnames seem to to proliferate in my family. In various records--including census information, city directories, birth and death records, and cemetery records--I've found a long list of misspellings. I've found Shenette, Chenette, Chenet, Sinnett, Shinett. My paternal grandfather, Frank A. Shenette, started out life as Francois Hormidas Chenette. In the 1881 Canadian Census he is listed as Hormidas Chenette. Over the years I've found him as Francis, Hormidas, and Frank. He eventually seemed to settle on the name Frank Amidos Shenette. I've always wondered where the middle initial A came from on his death certificate and what the A stood for. The mystery was solved when I reviewed his World War I draft record. There he was, listed as Frank Amidos, with what I'm guessing to be a phonetic misspelling of Hormidas.

To add to the confusion my great-grandfather's name was also Francois. He was the father of 25 children (Yes you read that correctly. I'll deal with that issue in a separate post.). Apparently great-grandfather Francois really liked the name Francois. No less that three of his sons were also named Francois. I always joke that it reminds me of the characters on the old Bob Newhart show, "Newhart"--Larry, his brother Darryl, and his other brother Darryl (My great-grandfather Francois, his son Francois, and his other son Francois...). Sometimes the Francois went by their middle name, sometimes by Francois, sometimes Francis, or in my grandfather's case Frank.

What's a poor genealogist to do?

Surname variations for Chenette in my records: Chenet, Chenett, Chenette, Chuette, Schennette, Shenett, Shenette, Shinett, Shinnette, Sinnett.

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