French Culture

Naming

Naming Conventions

  • French naming conventions arrange names as follows: [first given name] [middle given name(s)] [FAMILY NAME]. For example, Philippe Alain LAURENT (male) or Marie Monique DUBOIS (female).
  • One’s ‘first name’ (un prénom), known as a ‘personal name’ or ‘given name’, is chosen at birth as the individual’s personal identifier. It always comes before the family name. 
  • The ‘family name’ (un nom de famille), known as a ‘surname’ or ‘last name’, is inherited from one’s parents and shared with other members of the individual’s immediate family
  • French names are traditionally patrilineal, whereby children are given their father’s family name. However, this is not an enforced custom and children may take their mother’s family name.
  • Some parents may choose to give their children a hyphenated surname that contains the family name of both the mother and father (e.g. Philippe Alain LAURENT-MARTIN). 
  • It is common for women to adopt their husband’s family name at marriage, though this is not a legal requirement.1
  • In some cases, the wife may adopt a hyphenated surname, made by joining her family name and her husband’s family name. For example, Marie Monique DUBOIS-LAURENT.
  • Hyphenated given names are quite popular. The names are usually combined from two names of the same gender (e.g. Jean-Marc). Hyphenated names are considered to be a single unit rather than two separate names.
  • Many French also have a ‘middle name’ (un deuxième prénom), which is a secondary personal name written between the person's first name and their family name. For example, Marie Monique DUBOIS’s middle name is ‘Monique’.
  • It is common for French people to have multiple middle names, typically two to three. For example, Chloé Louise Nathalie ROUX.

 

Names

  • Most French parents choose their children’s given names based on aesthetic appeal.
  • Parents may choose any given name for their child, but French government officials can reject a name if it is deemed to go against the best interests of the child. For example, if the name may cause controversy or embarrassment.2
  • French given names often have a masculine and feminine version. Generally, male names are the root, and a feminine suffix is added to create a female version. Feminine suffixes include ‘-ie’, ‘-ine’, ‘-que’, ‘-elle’, ‘-ette’, and ‘-anne’. For example, the male given name ‘Antoine’, while the female given name would be ‘Antoinette’.3 Similarly, the masculine name ‘Jean’ in its feminine form is ‘Jeanne’.
  • There are also a number of traditional French names that are unisex, such as ‘Dominique’ or 'Alex'.
  • Many French names may have an English translation. For example, the name ‘Guillaume’ is ‘William’, ‘Maxime’ is ‘Max’, and ‘Genavié’ is ‘Genevieve’.
  • Traditionally, many French names were based on saints from Roman Catholicism. It is common to French people from older generations with names relating to saints (e.g. Pierre for Saint Peter).
  • Some French family names contain a particle, such as ‘de’ (“of”) or ‘de le’ (“of the”). These particles are not capitalised. For example, Jeanne Marie de CLÉMENT.

 

Addressing Others

  • In ordinary polite usage, a person’s name is preceded by the title Monsieur for males and Madame for females.
  • The title Madame is used in formal, administrative and professional contexts regardless of her marital status. For instance, on administrative forms by the government.
  • Monsieur is abbreviated as ‘M.’, while Madame is abbreviated as ‘Mme.’
  • The title Mademoiselle may be used to address females depending on the context and level of familiarity. However, usage of the title is declining. Mademoiselle is considered less formal than Madame, and it is not used in professional contexts.
  • When talking to someone, it is considered impolite to use a title followed by a name. Rather, only the title is used. For example, someone speaking to Philippe Alain LAURENT would refer to him as Monsieur, and not Monsieur Philippe.
  • It is generally impolite to address someone by their given names alone, unless the person is a relative, friend or close colleague.
  • It is rare for people to address one another by family name alone, unless in a business context.
  • For some French people, their preferred name (le nom d’usage) may be their middle name, rather than their first name. For example, Guillaume Alexandre GAUTIER would be referred to by the name ‘Alexandre’.
  • It is common for someone’s nickname to be a shortened form (un diminutif) of their first given name. For example, Benjamin may have the nickname Benji.
  • Some nicknames are formed by repeating the first syllable of their name. For instance, the nickname of Chloé Louise Nathalie ROUX may be CloClo.
  • It is only appropriate to refer to someone by their nickname or shortened version of their name if you have been invited to do so, or if it is the common name used to refer to that person by everyone.

 

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1 Salzberg, 2021
2 Bologna, 2017
3 Salzberg, 2021
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