Could I be descended from a French duke?
QMy 9x great grandfather was Jacques or Jacob Deguise; his father may have been Clement. Jacques was born in Dunkirk, France, and died in 1700. I am curious who came before him, and whether there could be any connection to the Duc de Guise. Kimberley Pelton
A There are five main types of surname; patronymics like Williamson, from the name of the father; metonymics like Butcher, from the father’s occupation; topographic ones like Hill, from prominent local features; nicknames like Armstrong, about people’s distinguishing characteristics; and surnames derived from the names of places where people lived. Your surname of interest, Deguise, must fall into the latter category, for it means ‘de (of) the town of Guise’.
Guise is a town in France, some 110 miles south-east of Dunkirk. Now, it is true that Guise was ruled by an aristocratic family of lords, then counts, and finally dukes. They were a distinguished lot: the first Count of Guise, René (1409–1480), was a younger son of Louis II of
Anjou, King of Naples, and the first one to become a duke,
Claude (1496–1550), was the maternal grandfather of Mary, Queen of Scots. They were all very much ‘of Guise’.
But besides dukes of Guise, there were also constables of
Guise; mayors of Guise; merchants of Guise; butchers of Guise; candlestick-makers of
Guise; nightwatchmen of
Guise; nightsoil collectors of
Guise; gravediggers of Guise; and beggars of Guise. It is entirely possible that a duke of Guise had an illegitimate child who was styled, or chose to style himself, Desguise, ‘of Guise’, and the surname passed down his male line ever after. But it’s just as possible that the father of the first Deguise in your line was any one of the many other men who lived within the walls of medieval Guise.
As with all surnames, the only way really to get to the truth is to persist with trying to trace your earliest known ancestor back, and doing that using 17th-century French records will be no easy matter, if it can be done at all. The line is highly likely to go back eventually to Guise, but whether to the loins of a duke or a beggar there, you just can’t predict. Anthony Adolph
Henry I, Prince of Joinville and Duke of Guise (1550–1588)