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Former city-loving Mancunian writer and teacher, a motorbike-loving ex-transport officer, a boy and their assorted animals move to une fermette en France. More Info

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March 2017
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See you Manchester, bonjour Charente

What’s in a name?

March 6, 2017

With so many of my friends having chosen French names for their children born here, and my sister’s pregnancy, it’s got me interested in names. I always found the French a little mean in the mayoral veto, brought in to get rid of regional dissent and dialects in part. Since 1993, you’ve been able to call your French-born child whatever you like – and whilst that gives you plenty of freedom to call your child Brooklyn, Romeo, Cruze, Blue Ivy, Dweezil or Consuela Banana-hammock, most French baby names are fairly traditional. Yes, Emma’s on there at number 8 (and languishes in 32nd place in the UK) but there are plenty of other names that are popular on both sides of the channel.

Chloé is France’s number one girl’s name, in sixteenth place in the UK. Alice, Jade, Léa and Manon make up the top five. Apart from Manon, all sound suitably international, until you pronounce Jade as the French do – zhahd. Manon doesn’t come into the top 100 in the UK, and is never likely to, even Emmanuelle Béart couldn’t make the name popular in the UK.

“Mann-onn, do you want pop tarts or crumpets?”

I can’t really picture it.

The top five most popular British girls’ names – Olivia, Lily, Sophia, Emily and Amelia – mostly work in French, and indeed, I know a Lylie and a Sophie, but I don’t think Amelia would translate so well. Despite the film, even Amélie is not so popular in France. Whilst Isabelle, Mia and Charlotte would be easy enough to pronounce, I think some of those British names would be difficult for the French to pronounce. Isla (Ees-la), Grace (Grass) and Ruby (Ru-beh) would probably also be tongue-twisters. By the same standard, Maëlys, Capucine and Margaux would probably be tough in English pronunciation.

Sometimes, there are cultural differences too. Pauline, Rose and Jeanne sound a little old-fashioned to me. Then again, so did Martha, 20 years ago when my friend named his daughter Martha. It’s now the 97th most common name for a girl in the UK.

By the same note, we find differences between the names pôpular in the UK and in France for boys. Lucas tops the chart for the French, pronounced Luca, and Oliver is the most popular boys’ name in the UK. There’s a lot of angels in the French top ten, with Gabriel and Raphaël, but Arthur is also up there – a name that sounds very old-fashioned to me. Stanley seems to be making a come-back in the UK, but I can imagine that being ‘Stan-leh’ for the French, who have a devil of a time with names finishing in ‘ey’ in English.

And yes, both French and English lists have names that sound remarkably like pet names. I can’t believe the popularity of Oscar, which sounds like it belongs to a dog. But then I feel the same about Charlie and Alfie. The French are more traditional than we are about giving people names to animals – the names most likely to stick are made-up ones like Maxou and Loula. Mind you, with dogs called Tilly (83rd most popular UK name) and Heston (after the actor, not the chef) I guess I can’t talk.

As for my sister, I don’t know whether she’ll choose something incredibly British, or whether she’ll choose something that works in French too, but she has turned down several of my suggestions, including Eric (after Cantona, not Morecambe) and Remington (just because he’d be bound to turn out to be a spy with a name like that).

As long as she steers away from Manon, I think we’ll be okay.

by Emma. Find out more about Emma here.

Categories: Life in France