The Bernard Girls

I was just getting comfortable with the relevation that we had a new surname, Joseph, on our hands, for my great-grandmother. I mentioned in my last post that this new information even led me to a record for one of my great-aunts. But then that record added yet another name to the St. Lucia parade. A Social Security Index record for Tia Clemina (a.k.a. Maria Estebana) listed her mother as “Edelanepe Mondese”, which we can accept as an interpretation of Edelanise Mondesi. But then the father was listed as “Bernard Joseph.” Ahem and pardonez mois, you crazy St. Lucian Panamanians, but WHO? Until now, I had never heard of anyone named Bernard in the family. Not for a first name, for a middle name, or for a last name.

I got my mother on the line and tried to ask as sensitively as possible if perhaps Clemina had a different father than some of her siblings. My mom was positive that Louis Joseph Colomb was the father of all the children I refer to as the Colomb Mondesis.  I verbally reviewed with her the other information on the Social Security record and my mother confirmed that all of the other information in seemed to match her aunt.  But she was also surprised about this Bernard business and could not offer an explanation for it being there. At least, not initially.

About a half hour after we ended our call my mom called me back because she had just remembered something. She hadn’t thought about it in a very long time, but all of a sudden it popped into her head that people would often call her grandmother “Ma Bernard.”  Later on other members of her generation confirmed this, even stating that people called her “Ma Bernard” a lot, probably more than her other names.

A week or two later I also made a phone call to one of Tia Clemina’s children, Delia, to ask about both the Joseph and Bernard names on her mother’s Social Security record. She told me that her mother always used the Joseph surname because, unlike some of her siblings, she never legally changed it to Colomb.  In a separate conversation about my grandmother, Tere (Maria Anastasia), my mother said that in her early years Nana Tere had used the Joseph surname but changed it to Colomb later in life.  I asked Delia if all this meant that my great-grandmother called herself Edelanise Joseph Mondesi, as it appeared in the baptism records.  She resolutely said no, her grandmother would always say the reverse, Mondesi Joseph.

Name Change Pic

Delia was very helpful on the “Ma Bernard” front too. When I mentioned it she launched into a bit of French patois, reciting a how-are-you- type greeting she would often hear when visitors and passersby spoke to her grandmother.  Much to my entertainment, she also gave me the example of a young neighbor who would complain to my great-grandmother about her chickens pecking at him, saying ” Ma Bernard fowl a bit mi en mi bati”. That’s West Indian English for “Ma Bernard, your chicken bit me in the butt”!

Then just last night at a gathering with family my mother and her cousin Rita, Fide’s (a.k.a. Maria Sebastiana’s) daughter, dug a little deeper in their memories regarding the Joseph and Bernard names. Rita said that people used to refer to her mother and her sisters as “the Joseph girls” as well as “the Bernard girls.” However, at some point the family decided that Colomb Mondesi was the right name for Louis Joseph’s Colomb’s (Bernard’s????) and Catherine “Edelanive” Mondesi’s offspring.  I think a lot more work will be required to make sense of the new crumbs I’ve found on the St. Lucian branch of the family.

Given the tiny bit of information I do have now, I can only speculate about Bernard Joseph. Maybe Bernard really was a name that belonged to Louis Joseph Colomb? Though it appears as a first name in Clemina’s Social Security record the fact that people addressed my great-grandmother, his wife, as “Ma Bernard” makes me think it was really more of a surname.  So just as she was Edelanise Mondesi Joseph, maybe he was Louis Joseph Colomb Bernard? Maybe whatever Tia Clemina wrote on her Social Security application (or whoever filled it out) is not a perfect representation of the name, but is based on something real. Maybe the gods have blessed us with both the maternal and paternal surnames for my St. Lucian great-grands?

One thing that is clear is that I have a LOT more digging to do , and a lot more to learn about French and French Caribbean naming and nicknaming practices. I am so grateful that I found this “Bernard Joseph,” otherwise I may never have heard about “Ma Bernard” and missed a whole string of clues to look out for and follow. I’m sure it will take a while to really get somewhere in regards to these names, but that is the name of the genealogy game.


hello my name is we'll figure it out shortly



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