what is the meaning of the ending -eault on some french names. Boissoneault for example. Boisson is literally a beverage, but the meaning of the ending mystifies me.


2 Answers 2


In French it doesn't mean anything. It's just a name. It would be like the "-ard" in Richard, Bernard, it used to mean "hard", but nowadays, it's just part of the name...

Note that it's just pronounced "o". Yes, that's right, it's five letters, and it's pronounced just like one. You don't pronounce the 'l', the 't', or the 'e', and 'au' makes the 'o' sound. That's just a quirk of French.

I've read some forums online (it appears to be just speculation from anonymous users so I'm not sure there's a point giving links). Also my knowledge of ancient Germanic is zero, so take this with a grain of salt.

  • One possible explanation is that it comes from old Germanic "ald" meaning "elder". So in English it would be like in the names "Archibald", "Donald", "Gerald", maybe.
  • Another possible explanation is that it comes from "wald" which means "to rule, to govern". In English this would be like in the names "Oswald" or "Torvald", for example.

Some also mentioned that the different between "-ault" and "-aud" might come from different regions and religions of France (catholic vs protestants, south vs north, east vs west...), but nothing really clear.


The archaic French suffix -eault and phonetically similar ones -aut, -eau, -au, -aud, -ot are typical diminutives, e.g.:

Pierre  →  Pierrot  
Jean    →  Jeannot  
Chien   →  Chiot  
Petit   →  Petiot  
Arbre   →  Arbrisseau


Boisson →  Boissoneault 

In that particular case, the root of the name cannot be the modern boisson (beverage) as it wouldn't make sense for a family name and also because boisson was likely less used than beverage / breuvage.

The root is almost certainly what we now call buisson, meaning "bush".

Buisson was indeed spelled boisson in old French and was already a diminutive of buis or bois.

So Boisso(n)neault and variants like Boissonneau are naming a family originally living near a small bush, a grove, a stand of wild shrubs, a.k.a. a buissonnet, .

  • I agree Boisson as beverage might not be strong for a family name unless they were famously drunk as a clan! I could well imagine the Bois in Boisson- is derived from woodlands, as where a tribe resided, as opposed to on a prairie or by a river or by the sea. I doubt a shrub, as diminutive tree, would have that lasting impact across generations. Further, there are other names, as in Amereault that use the same ending. I would like to hear more ideas. Are there any French words that are not family names that end in -eault or similar suffix? Mar 28, 2018 at 20:51
  • Boisson is neither an adjective nor a location so should really be ruled out. That would have been something like Soulard which exists with that meaning. You shouldn't focus on -ault spelling. Family names were created at a time where most of the people was illiterate so the spelling could widely vary over the time and was essentially phonetic. Moreover, many names original meaning were lost so there was no way to adjust them to match their modern spelling. This is one of the reasons why there is so much diversity in French names, ~1.3 million different ones, possibly a world record.
    – jlliagre
    Mar 28, 2018 at 22:48
  • Amereault possible etymology is from Amirault which comes from the arabic amir (chief) and the same suffix -ault meaning little. Alternatively, it might be a variation of the name Emeraud, a diminutive of Emery which originates from the German Heim (home) + ric (powerful, rich), just like the Spanish Américo which gave its name to America... The same germanic root gave Heinrich, Henry and Henri.
    – jlliagre
    Mar 29, 2018 at 2:14
  • Anything to suggest that de bois as in from the woods is the root, the de was dropped or never used and the added syllable (bois "-son") is simply an insertion to make it pronouncable with the -eault ending? the french would not like to try to pronounce "bois eault", as they do not like to pronounce "y a il" and say "y a-t-il" instead? Probably not... just entered my mind. Mar 29, 2018 at 20:51
  • That would be du bois (from the woods, which is a very common last name in France) not de bois (made of wood). In any case, here is another reference that confirms the "bush" etymology: filae.com/nom-de-famille/boisson.html
    – jlliagre
    Mar 29, 2018 at 23:55

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