The origin and spelling of the name

The origin of the family name Gimbrère lies in France, but it is not a French name. In the area from where the family originates, the Gers department, Gascon was the language that was spoken until the thirties of the twentieth century. Therefore Gimbrère is a Gascon name, it means: “place where junipers grow”. The name is composed out of “gimbre”, juniper, and the suffix “-era”, that indicates a place with tree vegetation.

Gascon is a Roman language, related to the Catalan and Provencal language of the troubadours of the Middle Ages. Gascon belongs to the Occitan group of Roman languages and is the only one with proto-Basque roots. Therefore, it is not a French dialect. “Vernacular” would also be a misguided term. Gascoigne, the area between the Atlantic Ocean, the Pyrenees and the river Garonne, is after all large as the Netherlands. The Gascon origin of the name is apparent from the spelling “Gimbrera” that is found until the 16th century.

This spelling was used in the earliest official  document, that we could find. In that document it reads that Sansaverius de Gimbrera was present at the draft of a deed with the rights and freedoms of the village of Bonas in 1293. In the tax book of Auch from 1439 we find a record of the possessions  of Arnaud de Lagimbrera:

In 1505 five men with the name Lagimbrere lived around Bonas, among whom Jehan de Lagimbrera alias Guilhamet, found in a notarial deed:

In 1558 the name is spelled as Gimbrere, as shown here: Jehan Gimbrere in a court verdict:

As can be seen from the pictures, our search is made far from easy because of the various forms of script, Especially the 16th century script is quite interesting, to say the least.

The transformation from Lagimbrera/Lagimbrere to Gimbrere seems to be induced by the pressure of local nobility, who wanted the name Lagimbrera to be connected only to the direct family of the owners of the manor Lagimbrera/La Gimbrere near Jegun. That was not accomplished without difficulties: in 1759 still a Gimbrere claimed the name Lagimbrere at the baptism of his daughter in the village Montreal in the Gers.

Gimbrère as indication of location

“Place where junipers grow” clearly is an indi­cation of a location (toponym), that was adopted as their name by a local family, because they lived nearby such a place. France knows a lot of toponyms, that are used as address: the so called lieux-dits. Via the website of the French topographic service ( we found three lieux-dits Gimbrère/la Gimbrère. They are all located in the Gers, the department that is shown here below. Furthermore the toponym Gimbrède can also be found. One village and four lieux-dits carry this name. They are also located in the Gers or nearby.

As regards the meaning: there is barely any difference: gimbrède also means “place where junipers grow”. The subtle difference is that gimbrère indicates a place where junipers grow as trees, whereas gimbrède indicates a place where junipers grow in the form of bushes. This difference mainly tells us something about the use of the land: the chance and time that junipers got to grow into trees. In the Middle Ages both names were sometimes used for the same location (and the same family). Since 1600 the spelling crystallized and the name Gimbrède disappeared in the surroundings of Ayguetinte and Auch.


Lieu-dit la Gimbrère

For the Gimbrère family there is one lieu-dit of special interest: La Gimbrère between the village Jegun, a little bastide in the Gers 16 kilometers NW of the capital Auch, and the village Bonas, 4,5 km NW of Jegun. It all started there. Nowadays it is a manor with nice barns and a bakery. It has a building history of 700 years. The early history of this lieu-dit la Gimbrère and the manor will be highlighted in chapter 4. Near St-Antonin, 30 km more eastward, there is another lieu-dit with the name Gimbrère. Their inhabitants also undoubtedly called themselves the same, but we did not find them in the church registers from after 1600.


The spelling of the name

When doing genealogical research, one frequently discovers that the notation of names, also of last names, is subject to change. That sometimes compicates the search strategy considerably. In the version of the Family Tree from 1964 the variant Jimbrère is mentioned, which we never have encountered. Below we discuss the spelling in France and in the Netherlands.

The spelling in France

There is no variation in the notation of the name Gimbrere from the late 16th and 17th centuries. Not even concerning the forever disputed grave accent: that is never there. That is not surprising, because in the old French spelling the accent hardly occurred and its meaning was different. In the original Gascon the accent was redundant: the e between consonants was mostly an è-sound.

The oldest signature of a direct ancestor is the one of Blaise Gimbrere, who together with his elder half-brother Raymond signs as a witness in a notarial deed in 1643. Blaise’s signature is on the right. Both of them sign without an accent.

It was not until the 18th century, according to some in 1740, other sources give 1762, that the Académie Française regulated the use of the grave accent. That coincides with the appearance of this accent on the name Gim­brere. Salient is the difference between the signature of direct ancestor Dominique Gimbrere in his marriage contract in 1780 and the signature of his brother Guillaume in his of 1764. There is no ac­­cent in the contract of Dominique, neither in his own signature. Guillaume does indeed sign as Gim­brère. Occasionally we came across Gimbrére in the 18th century, but that is more an indication that the writer knew that there had to be an accent, but that the direction of the accent was rather free.


1764; Signatures of the marriage contract of Guillaume, from left to right: father Bernard, Guillaume, sister Marie en brother Anselme, above Anselme mother Magdelaine Roullau; underneath notary Farnuël


In archive summaries (paper and internet), by the way,  accents occur, where they are lacking in the original cer­ti­ficates and records. They are added by archivists, because they are apparently logical in modern French. These summaries date from the 20th and 21st centuries. Other spelling variations are almost absent: the Gimbrères are well educated people with considerable social status. Their name was well known, and they knew perfectly how to write it. Nevertheless, we regularly encounter the variant Gimbrede in do­cu­ments about that time. It always appears to concern copy errors, that can be explained because the archivist knew the name of the village and the family name Gimbrède, and they did not know the lieu-dits and family name Gimbrère.

Only after moving to Bordeaux more variations in the name occur. Here we see Jumbreire (on a birth certificate, in the absence of the father) and Guimbrere, as an archivist’s mistake. But most variation is introduced by ancestor Dominique Gimbrere, who writes his name on the birth certificates of his children successively as: giembrere, gimbrere en gimeberere.

This undoubtedly reflects Dominique’s limited writing capacities. Neither his father, nor his children make such mistakes. But the mistakes probably give a good insight in the local pronunciation of the name: “zjiembərerə”. Both in Antwerp as in Bordeaux we once see the spelling Gimbraire. This shows clearly that the first e really refers to an è sound.

The spelling in the Netherlands

Foreign names are often corrupted in Dutch. Most of the changes occurred before the introduction of the civil registration in 1811. Because Jean François arrived in Tilburg in 1839, the name Gimbrere lives on in the Netherlands without considerable changes. In fact, there is only one variable: the name is written with or without accent.

The regional archive of Tilburg has a beautiful digital access to civil register data. You can not only search by name, but with one push of a button you can look at original documents. That gives us the following insight: In the beginning you can find in almost none of the birth or marriage certificates an accent on the last name. Jean François and his children never sign with an accent. Along that logic no accent belongs on the names of their descendants. And yet the use of it sneaks in slowly. Even though the children of Jean François ne­ver sign the birth certificates of their children with an accent, some of the civil servants accidentally in­clude the grave accent in the certificate. We noticed this seven times in the period 1885-1897. According to the Register, seven of the forty-four grandchildren of Jean François carry the name Gimbrère. Four of them are women and one is a boy that dies early. Only the descendants of Camille C.G.M. (*1897) en Vincent M.L. (*1888) bear the name with accent following this formal argumentation. However, the civil register sometimes introduces changes later on, sometimes even differentiating between brother and sister.

After the arrival of Jean François in Tilburg, his given names are Dutchified: Johannes Franciscus. The certificate of his second marriage in 1869 with Maria Antonia van de Oetelaar even mentions that with these names the same person is indicated.

The spelling on this website

What someone’s name is, depends on the civil register and on his or her personal preference. In the Gimbrère family this seems to vary quite a bit. The preference for choosing the accent can be traced back to two factors:

a) Many Gimbrères have a Francophile orientation, as is apparent from the given names of their children
b) The name is better pronounced when the name is written with accent.

In our digital database we present the given names as faithfully as possible according to the civil register, and we do the same with the family name. The result is that an accent on the name is quite rare in the database. When we write “Gimbrères”, we mean all the (members of) the family Gimbrère as a whole, given that the preference of many of the Dutch Gimbrères is the spelling with grave accent. But overall this minor detail is a bit confusing and therefore we apologize for any inconsistencies.