Saturday, 28 April 2012

Sorry, your name's not on the list.

I was talking to a French colleague the other day about the names given to babies in France and it surprised me that she wasn't aware of the list. When I told her she was really surprised and had never heard of it.

I guess you didn't either, so I shall explain.

You know when you were at school and your teacher told you that French children celebrated their "saint's day" and their birthday?  You thought that it was unfair because some kids, like Jade, Holly, and Jason weren't named after saints so wouldn't get extra presents.

Well, as far as I understand it, at the end of the 18th century, after the Revolution, a law was passed which allowed parents only to name their children after saints or famous French historical figures. If the name wasn't a day on the calendar, you couldn't call your child that name.

This law, Loi du 11 germinal an XI states that:
"... les noms en usage dans les différents calendriers, et ceux des personnages connus dans l'histoire ancienne pourront seuls être reçus, comme prénoms, sur les registres de l’état civil destinés à constater la naissance des enfants; et il est interdit aux officiers publics d'en admettre aucun autre dans leurs actes.”

This was on the French statute books until 1966 when the law was changed when a limited number of other names were added to the list. These included some foreign names, regional names and even a few mythological names, too.

Or, as the French put it: “la force de la coutume, en la matière, a sensiblement élargi les limites initialement assignées à la recevabilité des prénoms par les prescriptions littérales de la loi du 11 germinal an XI.”

In 1981, this was changed so that parents could more or less call their children anything as long as it was not deemed to be a stupid name: “les parents peuvent notamment choisir comme prénoms, sous la réserve générale que dans l’intérêt de l’enfant ils ne soient jugés ridicules..."

This all came to an end in 1993 when new legislation (article 57 du Code Civile) gave parents the right to call their children pretty much anything they wanted.

That's the reason why in 2011 among the most popular boys' names in France were: Tom, Anthony, Ethan, and Enzo and popular girl's names include: Jade, Lilou, and Eva.
picture from


Ms P said...

Just did a starter activity where I found list of the top ten German boys and girls names from pre 1900 onwards. Choose a year printed names onto cards and got kids to sort into top ten order - a little bit of cultural history and discussion point. Also did comparison with top ten list from 2011 etc...

David Houston said...

Apparentlt (according to a QI I saw recently) the year after they removed the limitation, the sixth most popular boys name was......Kevin