Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Jim in Northport wrote, “My wife was researching her family and came up with an ancestor’s name (Melancon) with a character in it that I can’t name. It is a ‘c’ with a tail hanging below it.

1. What is this character called?

2. How would the name be anglicized? Melancon or Melanson? Or either?”

The little hook under the ç is known as a cedilla. It is a diacritical mark, meaning that it indicates the sound value of the letter to which it is attached.

The cedilla shows up in façade, for instance, and when that word was brought into English from the French, the cedilla was dropped because most American keyboards don’t contain that symbol. However, the –c– is still pronounced as an –s–, so I suspect that the –c– in Melancon would be retained, but would be pronounced as an –s–.

A quick search on google shows that this is precisely the case. We find Charlie Melancon, a politician, the Melancon Funeral Home, Astros pitcher Mark Melancon, and Melancon Jewelers of Louisiana.

I do note, however, that the name was spelled Mellanson in the 17th century as an English name.

By the way, The Dictionary of American Family Names says that Melancon is a French nickname from a dialect word meaning melancholic.

NOTE: Words to the Wise received a favorable review in Andrea McDougal’s Word Nerds Rejoice: Top 25 Blogs For Editing Geeks.

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