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Paul LaVanway

I suspect that the "massacre" of French names is just something that more or less goes with the territory when the predominant language becomes English. My ancestors were among the very first settlers of Detroit----Francois Benoit dit Livernois and his wife Angelique----and it was from their property (and name) that street name Livernois is derived. That said, in an effort to preserve the way that the family name sounded (&/or should be pronounced?) the surname evolved into LaVanway (sometimes Levanway, if not Lavarnway), yet, despite that, it still doesn't sound the way it would if it were pronounced by a true Francophile.


Thanks Paul. There are still some Livernois, as well (my mother's maiden name is Livernois). Apparently we share a common ancestry.


great post. i love reading about the little known History of French Detroit.

Another common name to add to your list of pronunciations is Bob-Lo Island. The name is actually Bois Blanc, meaning White Wood. Great article here:

Another interesting tidbit: when the French Navy first put Detroit on the map they were referring to the entire strait draining Lake Huron into Lake Erie. It was called le détroit du Lac Erie, the strait of Lake Erie.

The parsing of the name to only include the modern day Detroit River came much later.

So detroit with a little 'd' actually includes both the US/Canadian sides of the border from Port Huron/Sarnia down past Gibraltar/Amherstburg.


It very interresting the history of french/canadien culture in Michigan...
Détroit and Chicago are founder by french but where is the momument ????
Les rues sainte-anne, campeau,charlevoix,beaubienare still alive !!!!

Dillon Donison

It's just as bad across the border trust me, I'm from the Windsor area, and French is my first language (yes there is still a small French speaking population here) and the names are just as bad: Ouellette becomes Oh-Let, Giardot becomes Je-rawr-doh, Pellisier becomes pull-ih-sher, the list could go on for ages. To make maters worse we have French language schools everywhere here (three highschools, and a ton of gradeschools for about 350,000 people) and people still screw it up... even if you go to an anglophonic schools, which most people tend to, you still take French for NINE years... At least you guys have the excuse that English is your only official language, we (Canadian, not including the Franco-Ontarien) just seem to be too lazy to care.

the history of Detroit, not to mention the entire Great Lakes area is being forgotten, but there are signs people are open to remembering it's French Canadian and Metis past. The Marche du Nain Rouge is one example of the roots of Detroit showing. Let's go from strength to strength and make it one of the first things people think of when they think Detroit.
James LaForest

Charmaine Sims

I enjoyed this post and comments very much! I stumbled upon it while looking up the French pronunciation of Illinois, which if not mistaken, would be "EE-Yun-wah" rather than "ill-annoy" which does accurately describe Illinois politics. I won't even go to those who insist on pronouncing the S. Detroit does indeed have lots of French history, as does my home area in Kankakee County. The story is told that some of our ancestors came from Canada via canoe "Trois Riviers." Many, many generations USA (I didn't say American only because those both sides of our borders are also American, not a big deal to most Canadians, but sometimes an irritant to Central Americans) anyway, quite a few in our area of French Canadian ancestry, and it was quite common for ppl to be bilingual - not the case now, but my dad was and French was his 1st language. Most of his family spoke it. There aren't too many left here who grew up with it. To this day, I get a very warm fuzzy feeling hearing it! Charmaine Courville Grandpre Sims

Fred St-Jean Bujold

Hi, I'm French Canadian and interested in Detroit's French heritage since I study Great Lakes History at university here in Montréal. I think it's great you guys want to know more about your city's history, I thought people had totally forgotten the region's French past. By the way, the right French pronounciation is "day-trwah" (not easy to write it down, you'd have to hear it). And Illinois is pronounced "ee-lee-nwah". The "s" is mute. Also, be aware the French were never numerous West of Montréal and the outposts they had there were primarily populated by male merchants and Indian allies. The region developed after the British Conquest of New France.

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