Ten years ago, when I met with the Academy High School class of 1935 in Erie, PA, and asked them about their former assistant principal, William Dimorier, using the French pronunciation, Di-more-ee-ay, they didn’t know who I was talking about. Then I tried pronouncing it as it is spelled, and still no recognition registered with the alumni. Finally, I spelled it for them, and they said, “Oh yes, Mr. Demeree.” They had no explanation of why they pronounced the name completely different from how it is spelled, and it wasn’t until years later that it started to make some sense to me.
Below, you’ll find an excerpt from the biography I am writing on William E. Dimorier’s life. Because of the origins of the name and the way I know William pronounced it, I will be pronouncing it evermore as “Demeree.” Here’s why:
William’s surname, Dimorier, is a derivative of desMarets (pronounced Dem-a-ráy), a family name reaches back to sixth-century France. Other variations are Demarest, Demerest, Demorest, DeMara, Demaray, Demoray, Demeray, De Mary, Demeree, and Demaree. In William’s family tree, the name morphed from desMarets, to Demarest, to Demaree, and finally Dimorier, leaving a considerable amount of confusion in its wake. In William’s case, the exact manner in which the final version was created is rather ambiguous, but it explains why he pronounced it very differently from how it is spelled. A look at some family history and the morphing of the name might be helpful, starting with the first of William’s ancestors to come to America.
In 1663, William’s sixth great grandfather, David desMarets, brought his wife and children to America, seeking religious freedom. Once in America, desMarets organized a Huguenot Protestant Church on Staten Island, New York. Two years later, because of the constant threat of attack by native-Americans, the family relocated to Harlem, where David purchased a farm. He became an overseer and then a magistrate, in addition to providing leadership in the church located there.
Later, the family moved to New Jersey because with a church in Hackensack seemed better suited to them. One of the children in the young family was David Jr., William Dimorier’s fifth great grandfather. David Jr. grew up to have a son named Benjamin, born in 1691, and was killed the same year by a falling tree. Benjamin was William’s fourth great grandfather, and it was he who changed the last name to Demarest.
So William’s third great grandfather, Jacob, born in 1723, carried forward that name, but when he moved to Goshen, New York, the spelling changed slightly to Demerest. Jacob’s son was William’s 2nd great grandfather, David, born in 1745 and a Revolutionary patriot who enlisted from Dutchess County, New York. David changed the surname to Demeree for his 10 children, including William’s 1st great grandfather, Moses, born in 1782. Perhaps the reason for the change was to better match the original pronunciation of the desMarets name.
Of David Demeree’s 10 children, four could have carried on his surname, but each passed down a different variation from the other. Jobe kept the Demeree surname, Smith used Demorest, Jonathan employed the spelling, Demerest, and Moses, William’s great grandfather, adopted a surname completely different from any spelling that had been used in the family before—Dimorier.
How and why did Moses come up with the name Dimorier? There are at least three versions of the story. The first, in a 1938 history of the Demarest family, explains:
Tradition says that when still at home, a young man, he read about a famous general of that name and suddenly one day told his father that he was going to give his name that form. His father told him that he had no right to do so; but he did make the change; and his descendants maintained it.
The second version of the name-change story comes from William Dimorier himself in a letter dated December 12, 1940, which was included in the 1942 supplement to the 1938 publication.
I write to you regarding the change of my name to its present form. Two brothers about 150 years ago became angry at each other. The one who was destined to be my ancestor wanted a name unlike his brother’s and changed it to Dimorier. Everyone still called the name Demeree and some of my close relations still do. This foolish thing has been a great trouble maker, for so few can spell it and fewer can pronounce it. [i]
Although the 1964 Demarest family history’s second edition used the 1938 publication as its basis, it does not employ William’s version of the story at all. Instead, it briefly mentions the change, attributing it to a book that Moses read, and adding that the change “has caused some confusion in later generations.”[ii]
The reason the information about the various iterations of Dimorier’s name is important, is because William’s family used the pronunciation “Demaree” and other members of the extended family pronounce the name phonetically or with a French flair (Di-more-ee-ay). For example, Pearl Dimorier (1897-1971), a well-known educator in William’s hometown was known by the name exactly as it is spelled.[iii] Other contemporary holders of the name have reported that they answer to the French pronunciation.
There is evidence that William Dimorier’s students in Erie, PA, pronounced his name Demeree, and that treatment had to have come at the suggestion of the man himself, for how would they come it with it on their own? It should be said that William must have experienced a certain level of frustration as his name was spelled different ways in documents and newspapers throughout the years, including as Demorier and Demeree.[iv]
[i] Demarest, Mary A., Supplement to the Demarest family, published 1938: corrections and additions. (New Brunswick, NJ: Thatcher-Anderson, 1942), 14. Online: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/wu.89066044140, accessed 11/21/2014.
[ii] Demarest, 2nd edition, VI-45.
[iii] Based on a conversation with Melissa Burton in July 2013
[iv] The Academy High School class of 1935 had no idea who this researcher was referring to when the name Dimorier was pronounced in the French manner, but upon further conversation, they independently verbalized the pronunciation, “Demeree.” It is also evident from the various references the school yearbooks that his name was pronounced that way.
Ann Silverthorn is a blogger who also writes about a wide variety of topics in numerous genres, including non-fiction, fiction, poetry, travel, and grant writing.