Gervais Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Gervais Surname Meaning

The Gervais surname started out as the Gervase first name of French and Germanic origin.  The ger here meant “spear” and Gervase would mean “spear wielder” or “skilled with a spear.”  Gervais and Protais were two Christian martyrs of the 1st century and the Gervais name was later popularized by Christians.

Gervais came to England with the Norman Conquest.  The “G” here was soft.  Over time it was supplanted by the English Jarvis.  Gervais also travelled in the 17th century to French Canada (there are now more Gervaises in Canada than in France) and later to America and elsewhere as French Huguenots.

Surprisingly, however, the largest Gervais numbers today appear to be in East Africa, in the countries of Burundi and Rwanda.

Gervais Surname Resources on The Internet

Gervais Surname Ancestry

  • from France
  • to Canada, England (Huguenot), and America

Gervais began as a first name in France.  Gervais, Count of Rethel, and Gervais de Chateau-du-Loir, were French noblemen of the 11th century.

It emerged as a surname in the 16th and 17th centuries. Charles-Hubert Gervais, born in 1671, was the son of a valet to the King who composed sacred music and operas.  Gervais was also crossing to the New World at this time with French settlers to Canada.

Today the Gervais numbers are around 13,000 in France.  They are more found in Normandy and elsewhere in northern France.

England.  The Gervais or Gervase name crossed to England with the Norman Conquest.  There were Gervase of Canterbury, Gervase of Chichester, and Gervase of Tilbury to be found around the Archbishop of Canterbury in the late 12th and early 13th centuries.  However, in England Gervase as a first name turned into Jarvis as a surname.

Isaac Gervaise was the son of French Huguenot parents that had fled to London in 1681.  He made his mark there as a merchant and a writer on political economy.  Much much later came Jerry Gervais who arrived in England at the time of World War Two and stayed. His youngest son Ricky Gervais, born in England in 1961, is a highly popular comedian, TV actor and director.

Canada.  The Gervais name appeared at an early time in the history of French Canada.  Six Gervais young men from different parts of France came between 1650 and 1700. Two well-known lines here began with:

  • Johan or Jean Gervais from Touraine who was the first to arrive in 1653.  He and others of his line settled in Montreal, although one descendant Louis Gervais did move to Detroit in 1740 to start a lumber business.
  • and Jean-Baptiste Gervais from Rennes who arrived in Quebec in 1698 and married there two years later.  This family made its home in the fishing village of Ste. Anne-de-la-Perade. Charles Gervais of this family moved west in the 1890’s to Manitoba.  A descendant here, born in 1931, is Archbishop Marcel Gervais.

One should also include in the Gervais list Jacques Talbot, the son of Nicholas and Marie Talbot in Rouen.  He married Charlotte Sommeraux in Montreal in 1698 and they settled in Montmagny, Quebec.

Jacques like most compatriots of his time took or was given an alias or nickname during his military enlistment. Thereafter he became known as Jacques Talbot dit Gervais.  His descendants either stuck with Talbot and Talbot dit Gervais or dropped them and simply became Gervais.  The latter was the case with Joseph Gervais, born in 1777, the early explorer of the Pacific Northwest.

Today the Gervais name is mainly in Quebec. But there are numbers in Ontario too, in Kent and Essex counties in SW Ontario with its French-speakers there.  Gaeten Gervais who died recently was a prominent figure in Franco-Ontarian culture.  

America.  An early Gervais in America had Huguenot origins.  John Lewis Gervais was born in 1741 in Hanover of French refugee parents.  He arrived in Charleston in 1764 and prospered as a merchant.  He served as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1782 and 1783.  Gervais Street in the state capital Columbia was named in his honor. 

However, more were French-Canadian.  Notable Gervaises here were: 

  • Joseph Gervais who had left Quebec when he was twenty and became a pioneer trapper and settler in the Williamette Valley of the Pacific Northwest.  He supported the American-led effort to organize a provisional government in Oregon in 1843. The town of Gervais was named after him.
  • and Benjamin Gervais who was a pioneer settler in Minnesota.  It was said that his son Basil was born in 1839 the first white baby in St. Paul.  Five years later he ventured into the wilderness to found the Little Canada settlement. 

Some crossed into Maine.  Pierre Gervais moved there from Quebec in the 1860’s and farmed in Aroostook county.  The Gervais family is still there.  

Ricky Gervais’s  Family Ancestry

The comedian Ricky Gervais is English and sounds very English.  But his ancestry on his father’s side from 1700 to 1940 was French Canadian.  Just click below if you want to read more about this history:

Gervais Surname Miscellany

Early Gervais in Canada.  The following were early Gervais from France who married soon after their arrival in what was then New France:

  • Johan or Jean Gervaise who arrived in Montreal from Touraine in 1653.  He married the widow Anne Archambault there a year later.  They raised nine children.  He worked in Montreal as a baker.
  • Pierre Gervais who arrived in Quebec from Bordeaux in 1665.  He married Marie-Anne Blain there that year.
  • Rene Gervais who arrived in Quebec from La Rochelle in 1669.  He married Marie Jousselot there that year.
  • Marin Gervais who arrived in Quebec from Normandy in 1672.  He married Francoise Monvoisin there that year.
  • Matthieu Gervais who arrived in Montreal from Paris in 1676.  He married Michelle Picard there that year.
  • and Jean-Baptiste Gervais who arrived in Quebec from Rennes around 1698.  He married Marie-Jeanne Tessier at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade in 1700.  They raised nine children.

Benjamin Gervais, Minnesota Pioneer.  The St. Paul Dispatch of January 10, 1876 reported on his death as follows:

“Benjamin Gervais was one of the oldest, if not the oldest, white settlers in Minnesota.

He was born at Riviere de Loup in Quebec in 1780 and had moved west with other Canadian families to the Red River settlement in 1803.  He did not himself settle there until nine years later, having worked for a time as a fur trader with the Hudson Bay Company.  But when he later married and settled there to farm, he and other farmers were subject to floods and grasshopper plagues.

He consequently moved his family south into Minnesota and took up land on the east side of the Mississippi river.  In 1839 Basil Gervais was born to Benjamin and Genevieve Gervais, the first white baby to be born in what was to become St. Paul.  Five years later, he struck out into the wilderness, came upon a beautiful lake, and built his log cabin.  This became his Little Canada settlement.”

His story was narrated in Joan Jansen’s 1989 book The Benjamin Gervais Family.

Gervais Names

  • Joseph Gervais was a pioneer settler and trapper of the Pacific Northwest.
  • Marc Gervais was a Canadian Jesuit priest, as well as a writer and film scholar.
  • Ricky Gervais is a popular English comedian, TV actor and director.

Gervais Numbers Today

  • 16,000 in Canada (most numerous in Quebec)
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in America)

Gervais and Like Surnames

These are French-originated names, French Canadian surnames that were brought by French settlers to what was then New France.  Some are found in Louisiana after the Acadian exodus from the Canadian maritime provinces in the 18th century.  Here are a number of the French surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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