America's Oldest Breed of Livestock

The Dominique Name

The Etymology of the American Dominique

Let us begin by revisiting an article that appeared in the Dominique News Volume 12 Number 2, dated July/August 1985.

“Dominique” or “American Dominique”
by Roger Voter

Undoubtedly you have observed that in C. W. Besse’s article from 1914 in this issue and Rev. Cleworth’s article in our last issue, both authors referred to our favorite breed as “American Dominiques”. The Dominique Club of America, of course, calls them “Dominiques”. It is not my intention here to take sides but rather to present a few facts which may start a discussion among Dominique fanciers of a historical bent. In the early days of the Club this matter was considered briefly, but we bring it up again to learn your current thinking on it.

One of the earlier poultry books published in this country, J.C. Bennett’s The Poultry Book, Boston, 1854, refers to them as “Dominiques”. The American Standard of Excellence of 1874 and of 1883 calls them “American Dominiques” as does The American Standard of Perfection of 1898. The Standard of Perfection had by 1906 changed the name to “Dominiques”. In the 1910 edition they were also called “Dominiques”, likewise in 1923 and in later editions. The name of the National American Dominique Breeder’s Club of early in this century [ed. 20th Century] made very clear their position on this matter. The well known The Poultry Book, 1904 by Harrison Weir, also includes “American” in the name.

This is in no way a complete survey, nor was it intended to be. But we would like to hear your thinking as to the best if not correct name.

For years historians of the Dominique have debated the reasoning behind the breed having been originally named “American Dominique” and what, if any, significance this designation had.

Reviewing show results in a number of magazines from the 1800s there are Dominique Leghorns, Dominique Spanish, Dominique Italians and American Dominiques listed in a number of places. With the exception of the American Dominique, the word “Dominique” always precedes a breed inferring it is a variety.

To the layperson these would all seem to be the same breed, but such is not the case. Prior to the 20th century the cuckoo pattern was referred to as “Dominique” and occasionally as “Dominic” In most cases the variety “Dominique” is interchangeable with the term “cuckoo”.

The assumption that these are different varieties is borne out by the minutes of the meeting whereby the Standard was created.  An example would be the discussion which led to including the Dominique variety of Leghorn which later became known as the Barred  Leghorn.

Another tantalizing fact is the popularity of the Dominique in Germany. Dominiques were being exported to Germany by the mid-1800s. The German Dominiques evolved to a slightly different conformation as witnessed by early artwork and photographs.

It is this author’s conclusion that the name American Dominique was applied to the breed for two reasons. First, there was a desire to clearly differentiate them from the Dominique, or cuckoo, varieties of other breeds (i.e. Leghorns, Game Fowl, etc.). And finally, the Dominiques in other countries had begun to evolve into a different bird and the name American Dominique may have been an attempt to clarify the matter.

In most, if not all cases the variety “Dominique” has long since been replaced with “Cuckoo” or “Barred” and it is easy to understand the reasoning behind dropping “American” from the breed name. While the abbreviated name is inextricably linked to our favorite breed, the name “American Dominique” rolls off the tongue most pleasantly and conveys a sense of history.

The larger issue is why are they called “Dominiques” at all. In an attempt to unravel this mystery I began by researching the various names for the Dominique and probable associations.

In poultry history, the name Dominic was first applied to the barred breed. All identified references to the noun in the English language point back to Saint Dominic (born around 1170).

It isn’t until we leave the definitions of words and turn to the history of names that we find the origin of Dominic. From “Behind the Names – the Etymology and history of First Names” we learn that Dominic is “ From the Late Latin name Dominicus meaning “of the Lord”. This name was traditionally given to a child born on Sunday. Several saints have borne this name, including the 13th-century founder of the Dominican order of friars.”

Likewise, from the Oxford Concise Dictionary of First Names, we learn that Dominick is a simple variant of Dominic.

Merriam Webster Dictionary lists Dominican as originating around 1534 and defines the word as “a member of a mendicant order of friars founded by Saint Dominic in 1215 and dedicated especially to preaching.” In medieval England, the Dominicans, dressed in a white tunic and scapular with a large black cloak and hood.

The 1901 Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology by James Mark Baldwin lists Dominicans: (German Dominikaner; French. Dominicains; Italian. Domenicani.) The name given to the brethren of the Order of St. Dominic.

Dominican translates into the German ‘der Dominikaner’ Having no knowledge of the German language it was impossible for this author to delve into the history of this word in the German or Dutch texts. Any information the reader can supply would be appreciated.

The term Dominicker dated to 1806 per the Merriam Webster Dictonary is a variant of Dominic.

Dominecker seems to exist only in the vernacular and appears to be a corruption of Dominiker. But this term cannot be dismissed lightly. It was used to denote black and white animals in many writings. I found references to the Dominecker mule, Dominecker woodpecker, Dominicker Duck and even the Dominecker camel. During research the term Dominecker People was encountered. Prior to 1900 this term was often used to indicate individuals of mixed parentage.

Dominacker is a term I overlooked until recently after seeing it in an old document. The book “Dialect Notes” published by the American Dialect Society (1918) in it’s section “Words of the South” lists a definition of the noun as “A species of chicken (Dominique, or Domenico?).  Also dominecker. Sometimes clipped to dommer.”

Dominick Chicken is also listed in Dialect Notes from 1918.  It lists the word as a euphemism.   The entry in the book was “n. phr. Any grouse killed and served out of season.  ‘ He must be livin ‘ on Dominick chicken. ‘  ”    Obviously this does not apply to our breed, but it was an interesting entry.

Dominique is dated to 1849 by the Merriam Webster Dictionary and has two definitions.
: (Dominica), one of the Windward islands, West Indies
: any of an American breed of domestic fowl with a rose comb, yellow legs, and barred plumage; broadly : a barred fowl

The term Dominique may have been added to the Merriam Webster Dictionary in 1849, however there is more than adequate evidence to show the term in common usage for our breed prior to that time. This does not help in our research.

Again, from “Behind the Names – the Etymology and history of First Names” and the Oxford “Concise Dictionary of First Names” we learn that Dominique is the French feminine and masculine form of Dominic, and again of great antiquity.

A critical reader will notice the lack of reference to the Dominican Republic. While the country is named for the Dominican Order, writers in the early 20th century dismissed the fanciful accounts that this region had any part in the actual history of the Dominique breed.

William C. Denny in Standard-Bred Plymouth Rocks (1911) went to great lengths to explain the difference in origin of the Dominica pit-game and the American Dominique. He theorized that any or all barred fowl became known as Dominicans or Dominiques due to the similarity in color to the barred pit games from Dominica.

Most early accounts of the fowl contain the English spelling of “Dominic” and not the French “Dominique”. However, by the mid-1800s the use of “Dominic” had been dropped and “Dominique” prevailed. One notable exception was a journal entry of Merriwether Lewis of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition. On March 3, 1806 he wrote of the spruce grouse looking like the Dominique, though he did spell it Domanique.

Still, the question remains: “Why Dominique”? All things considered, Mr. John Robinson was probably correct when, around 1915, he wrote that the basis for the Dominique name was the similarity between the black and white barring and the garb of the Dominican brethren.

Research into the history of the words and names, while not exhaustive, does lend credibility to Mr. Robinson’s theory. Almost all, if not all, of the words associated with the Dominique breed is derived from references to the Dominican order.

Another fact to substantiate this argument is the old practice whereby animals were called by their physical characteristics. There is evidence that at one time most “non-descript” barred fowl was referred to as the Dominic and it was only as our fowl began to meld into a breed that the designation was reserved for a certain group (the Dominique). All the others became varieties of existing breeds (i.e. Dominique Leghorn)

Having come full circle on this topic, and because several hundred years have passed since the Dominique became a breed, it is impossible to state with absolute certainty why the American Dominique was named thusly. While this is an excellent topic for an academic debate, the joy to be found is that our breed has survived so long that the origin of its name has been lost in time.