A primer on French names

My Atlantic City character Kit Green is half French from her hated mother’s side, and her father’s side of the family settled in France after they were chased out of Ukraine in the wake of a December 1902 pogrom. After WWII, Mr. and Mrs. Green go to France for a few years so Mr. Green can help the surviving members of the family.

My character Marie Sternglass is also French, from Nantes, and features in the hiatused The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees and The Natural Splash of a Living Being, a few sections of Cinnimin, Malchen and Pali (needs a much better title!), and the planned future volumes Sweet Miracles and Aliyah After All These Years. The Troys of my contemporary historical family saga are also half French Huguenot, from their marginally more intelligent father’s side.

Surnames:

As a proud second-generation Lucy Stoner, I’m thrilled French women don’t change their surnames if they marry. Since 1789, that’s been the law. Women in many Canadian provinces also keep their names as a matter of course. Happily, since 2005, France no longer requires children to have the same surname as their father.

Many French surnames have the prefixes De, Du, Le, Del, Dele, Dela, La, D,’ and De La. Some of these prefixes depend upon the gender or geographical origin of the name. De isn’t capitalized, though Du is. Contrary to popular belief, De doesn’t always indicate noble origins.

Like most other cultures, French surnames also have origins in patronymics, geographical location, profession, appearance, and nicknames.

Naming customs:

Though it’s common to have two or more names, only the primary name is used in everyday life. Not only do middle names in the Anglo–Saxon sense not exist, but middle initials aren’t used either. Compound names (e.g., Marie-Lucille, Jacques-Philippe Henri) have fallen out of fashion, as has the custom of giving old-fashioned middle names in honor of relatives. Just as with English names, French names too go through cycles of popularity, and names of foreign origin have become trendy in certain circles.

Pronunciation:

French uses the familiar Roman alphabet, with the addition of accent grave (à, è, ù), accent aigu (é), accent circonflexe (â, ê, î, ô, û), tréma/umlaut (ë, ï, ö, ÿ), and cédille (ç). The letter ù only appears in où (“where”). The tilde (ñ) appears in some Spanish words and names which have become a part of the French language.

W and K almost never appear outside of loanwords and certain regional words. Final consonants are typically silent, though there are some frustrating exceptions to have to learn!

Geographical spread:

Beyond France and Canada, French is also widely spoken in southern Belgium, western Switzerland, Luxembourg, Monaco, Italy’s Aosta Valley (which borders southwestern Switzerland), the Channel Islands (between France and England), Corsica, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Madagascar, Cameroon, Haiti, Congo, Lebanon, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and many other former French colonies.

Some common names and their nickname forms:

Male:

Abel
Adam
Adrien, Hadrien
Aimé
Alain
Alban
Albert, Aubert
Aldéric, Aldric
Alexandre
Alexis
Alfred
Alphonse
Ambroise
Anatole
André
Anselme
Antoine
Armand (Herman)
Arnaud (Arnold)
Arthur
Auguste, Augustin
Aurélien
Baptiste
Barnabé
Barthélémy
Basile
Benjamin
Benoit (Benedict)
Bertrand
Blaise
Boniface
Bruno
Célestin
Césaire, César
Charles (Charlot)
Christian, Christophe
Claude
Clément
Constantin
Corentin
Corin (Quirino)
Cyril, Cyrille
Damien
Daniel, Deniel (Breton form)
David
Denis
Dieudonné (Given by God)
Diodore (Gift of Zeus)
Dominique
Donat, Donatien
Dorian
Edgard
Edmond
Édouard
Élie (Elijah)
Émeric
Emmanuel
Étienne (Steven)
Eugène
Fabien
Fabrice
Félicien
Félix
Ferdinand, Fernand
Firmin
Flavien
Florent, Florentin, Florian
François, Frañsez (Breton form), Francis
Frédéric
Fulbert (Bright people)
Gabriel
Gaspard (Jasper)
Gaston
Gaubert
Gaultier, Gauthier, Gautier (Walter)
Georges
Gérald
Gérard
Ghislain
Gilbert
Gratien
Grégoire
Guillaume, Gwilherm (Breton form) (William)
Gustave
Guy
Hector
Henri
Herbert
Hilaire
Honoré
Hubert (Bright heart)
Ignace
Isidore
Jacques
Jean (Jeannot)
Jérémie
Jérôme
Joachim
Joël
Joseph
Josué (Joshua)
Jourdain
Jules, Julien
Justin
Lambert
Laurent, Laurentin
Lazare
Léandre
Léo, Léon, Léonard, Léonce
Léopold
Lionel
Lothaire
Louis, Loïc (Breton form)
Loup (Wolf)
Luc, Lucas
Lucien
Ludovic
Marc
Marcel, Marcellin
Martin
Mathéo, Matéo, Mathieu, Mathis, Matthias, Mathys, Matthieu
Maurice
Maximilien
Michel
Nazaire
Nicolas
Noé (Noah)
Noël
Norbert (Bright north)
Olivier
Pascal
Paul, Paol (Breton form)
Philippe
Pierre, Per (Breton form), Perig (Breton nickname), Pierrick (Breton nickname) (Peter)
Quentin
Rainier
Raoul
Raphaël
Raymond
Rémy, Rémi
Renaud, Reynaud
René
Richard
Robert
Rodolphe
Roger
Roland
Romain
Ruben
Sébastien (Bastien)
Serge
Séverin
Simon
Sylvain
Sylvestre
Théodore (Théo)
Thibault (Theobald)
Thomas
Timothée, Timothé
Toussaint (All saints)
Tristan
Ulysse
Urbain
Valentin
Valérian, Valère, Valéry
Vespasien
Victor
Vincent
Vivien
Xavier
Yann (Yanick, Yannic, Yannick) (Breton form of John)
Yves
Zacharie

Female:

Adélaïde
Adèle (Adeline)
Adrienne
Agathe
Aglaé
Agnès
Aimée
Albine
Alexandra, Alexandrine
Alice
Aline
Amandine
Amélie
Anaïs (Catalan and Occitan form of Anna)
Anastasie
Andrée
Anne (Anouk, Annick [Breton nickname]) (Annette, Ninon)
Antoinette (Toinette)
Ariane, Arianne
Arlette
Aurélie
Béatrice
Bérénice
Bernadette
Blanche
Camille
Caroline (Charlotte, Charline, Line)
Catherine, Katarin (Breton form), Katell (Breton form)
Cécile
Céleste, Célestine
Céline
Chantal
Chloé
Christine (Christelle)
Claire
Clarisse
Claudette, Claudie, Claudine
Constance
Coralie
Corinne
Cornélie
Cosette
Danielle, Danièle
Daphné
Débora
Délia
Delphine
Denise
Désirée
Diane
Dominique
Donatienne (Given)
Doriane
Dorothée
Éléonore
Élisabeth (Élise, Lili, Lise, Lisette)
Élodie
Éloïse, Héloïse
Émeline
Émilie, Émilienne
Emmanuelle
Ernestine
Estelle
Eugénie
Eulalie
Ève
Fabienne
Faustine
Félicie, Félicienne, Félicité
Fernande
Flavie, Flavienne
Fleur, Flore, Floriane, Florianne, Florine (Fleurette, Florette)
Florentine
Françoise, Frañseza (Breton form) (Francette, Francine)
Frédérique
Gabrielle
Geneviève (Ginette)
Georgette, Georgine (Gigi)
Géraldine
Ghislaine
Gisèle
Guenièvre
Hélène
Henriette
Hermine
Honorine
Hyacinthe
Inès
Irène
Isabelle
Isaure
Jacqueline (Jacquette)
Jeanne (Jeannette, Jeanette)
Joceline
Joëlle
Joséphine (Fifi, Josette,Josiane)
Judith
Julie, Julienne, Juliane
Justine
Laure (Laurette, Laurine, Lorette)
Léa
Léonie, Léone, Léonne, Léontine
Léopoldine
Liliane
Livie
Louise (Louisette)
Lucie (Lucette)
Lucienne
Lucrèce
Lydie
Madeleine
Marceline, Marcelline, Marcelle (Marcellette)
Marguerite (Margaux, Margot)
Marie (Manon, Marielle, Mariette)
Marine
Marthe
Mathilde
Mélanie, Méline
Mélisande
Michelle, Michèle (Micheline)
Mireille
Monique
Morgane
Natalie
Nicole (Nicolette, Nicoline, Colette)
Noëlle, Noèle
Noémie (Naomi)
Océane
Olivie
Olympe
Ophélie
Oriane, Orianne
Pascale, Pascaline
Pauline, Paulette
Pénélope
Pétronille
Philomène
Rachel
Raphaëlle
Rébecca
Régine
Renée
Romaine, Romane
Rosalie
Sandrine
Séphora (Zipporah)
Séraphine
Sidonie
Simone
Solange
Sophie
Stéphanie
Suzanne (Suzette)
Sylvie
Thérèse
Valériane, Valérie
Véronique
Victoire, Victorine
Vienne
Violette
Vivienne, Viviane, Vivianne
Yseult (Isolda)
Yvette
Yvonne
Zénobie
Zéphyrine
Zoé

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One comment on “A primer on French names

  1. Erika Beebe says:

    What a perfect post for me as I have a character who is French and I have been fighting with names…Thank you 😊

    Like

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