What Is The Correct Spelling?
Our branch of the family can be traced to France in the region of Normandie (Manche, Basse-Normandie), but concentrations of the name are also found in Bretagne, Picardie, Champagne, the Channel Islands (Îles Anglo-Normandes), as well as in Germany.
In early French records the name is spelled either PESTEL (the "s" being silent), or as PÉTEL. Though his father Louis only signed documents with a mark, our ancestor Pierre printed his name PETEL on his marriage record.
Pierre's great-grandson Narcisse (1822-1880) did not know how to write per French church records and U.S. census records so his preference is unknown. And though Narcisse's younger brother Régis signed his name as PETEL on various church records, his name is spelled PETELLE in published city directory listings. In the 1800's "le" added to the end became more prevalent. It was perhaps tacked on to add emphasis to the second syllable as English speakers would not have recognized the accent mark and pronounced the name more like "pedal". Doubling the last consonant and adding an "e" is also seen in names like Dupil - Dupille and Vermet- Vermette during this period.
A second "t", PETTELLE, was used by Paul, one of Narcisse's sons. His siblings Narcisse Rocque and Joseph, our ancestor, appear with this variant in some sources though they are usually represented with one "t". Keep in mind that up until the 20th Century words were spelled more or less phonetically which often resulted in a word or name being written differently, even by the same writer in the same paragraph.
What Does "Petelle" Mean, a Culinary or Military Origin?
In Old French, pestel, as the name is originally spelled, refers to a pestle, as in mortar and pestle. The stick-like tool with a rounded end is used to mash or pulverize items such as spices in a mortar.
Another interpretation is found in Noms de Famille Canadiens-Français:
PETEL. – De Pointel, commune de dép. De l'Orne, arr. D'Argentan (This is an area in lower Normandie). Pestel, pilon, masse, dard, ornement de tête
("Pestle, dart, or head ornament", this may refer to those used on military helmets.)
How Is The Name Pronounced?
It seems so simple, yet the miscues prompted our cousin Charles Francis Petelle, who owned a bookstore in Chicago, to write a poem in the late 1960's to share with his customers to help them correctly pronounce the name. The key is to rhyme "Petelle" with last word in the sentence preceding it. Here is a sample:
OH, THE NAMES I'VE BEEN CALLED
If your books you'd like to sell
Be sure to quote them to Petelle
You can sell your books more readily
By offering them to C. F. Petelle
No need to sing like Ringo Beatle
Just drop a card to Charlie Petelle...
- Signatures from birth and marriage records
- © Charles Francis Petelle