A castle with our name on it
One coincidence brought my family together in France
Last year, not long after my interest in 23andMe and family history, I got a funny message on an airline self-check-in machine:
When I returned home, my youngest brother and I talked about how we were related to these Hawaiian Doirons, and I brought up the existence of Chateau d’Oiron. Long story short, our roots must go back to the village of Oiron, about 200 miles southwest of Paris, and there’s a castle:
How Doiron is pronounced
Go ahead and try…
My family has always said “Dorrin” —I’ve thought of legally changing my name to be pronounceable, just as a UX improvement. Its spelling resists copying or reading over the phone. Even if I type into an online form, I might find myself helping a doorman find “Diorin” on the guest list.
We knew that the name was French-Canadian and we had roots in Prince Edward Island. We found that those Doirons pronounce the true French d’WAH-rohn, or author Paul Doiron’s preferred “Dwarren” (which as Google’s first answer, has some standing).
After living our lives so many years as Doirons and other variations, it was a surprise to find ourselves on the road to Oiron. Funnily enough, the car GPS did not have little “Oiron” in the system and we ended up inputting a nearby landmark.
Questions I wrote in advance:
- When was Oiron founded? With Paris 200 miles away, what was the Big City for them?
- Was the Oiron region known for anything special, like apples, IDK?
- Who ran the castle, and were they chill or what?
Oiron, the town
About 900 people live in small houses of Oiron, surrounded by farms, and it’s been that size since the census began in the French Revolution. There is a convenience store sized grocery, garage, and bakery in the center of town. The big supermarket and restaurants are in Thouars (“Twah”).
Chateau d’Oiron, the castle
It’s a charmingly explorable castle which has been converted into a contemporary art museum. Each castle in France has a gimmick so you don’t get fed up with doing the same kind of tour over and over. One inspired Sleeping Beauty and has dioramas from the story, one hosted da Vinci and has a garden full of his innovations, etc. This castle was definitely a top highlight of our trip to France. Not every art piece made a lot of sense, but it was fun. We made sure to pick up a few guides, souvenirs, and postcards from the gift shop.
The docent here was not so surprised at our Doiron reveal, but when we left she did remember and say “au revoir, famille d’Oiron”.
The church and the crocodile
Since 955 or earlier, Oiron has built and rebuilt a church dedicated to Saint Maurice. This and other historical moments (such as the arrival of the Gouffiers, who were the real inhabitants of the castle) are marked down inside. It’s tough to guess how much of this is Doiron family history, but last names got popular around 1300–1500, and people didn’t move so often, so I’d guess at least the first half.
This next part is a little crazy — there’s a crocodile mounted on the wall of the church. We were of course surprised:
After scouring the internet… no one knows for certain where the crocodile came from. Rumors are that it was brought back from Egypt (possibly alive) during Napoleon’s explorations there, or that hundreds of years ago it lived in a burrow hidden by a giant toad, until it was tracked and slain by a knight.
The crocodile legend is even in the town’s official seal:
Some last-minute Googling led us to find four ancient tombs outside Oiron (close to Taizé). These stone dolmens are scattered across Europe and are perhaps 5,000 years old. Ours stood out from the middle of a field, were about the size of a small car, and had a circular pile of smaller stones around.
Unsure how to venerate the dolmens, which could be our deep ancestors, I suggested we adopt the Buddhist practice of walking clockwise around them.
Due to some scheduling weirdness, my mom and brother stayed at one bed-and-breakfast, and I stayed at the other. Theirs was owned by a French couple, who made a dinner for us plus a couple visiting from Amsterdam. They offered local wine. Through their English, my brother’s French, and the Dutch translating at times, we all shared stories and interests until late into the night. My bed-and-breakfast was owned by a British couple who chose innkeeping as the next chapter in their lives. They were so sweet and friendly. I had breakfast with them and preferred their place’s more spacious and modern rooms.
The French couple noted that our name “had French origin” but didn’t react so much. My host kept saying isn’t that wild? and spelled out our name to her husband. We clarified that no, it wasn’t a coincidence. She joked about us being “lords of Oiron” and I’m sure that we left a positive impression.
Most of their travelers are visiting the Chateau, or stop on their cross-country roadtrip because it’s a highly-rated B&B.
The journey home
I left Oiron with a little extra spring in my step. Was I any more French? Probably not. Was I embracing a patriarchal system where men’s names are taken as a coherent lineage? Sure. But it helped me feel rooted to a deeper past, which I didn’t know I had.
As I boarded the last flight home, from Frankfurt, my gate attendant scanned my ticket and said, “Thank you Mr. Dorr-ee-awn.”
Can’t be helped.