Everybody who has ever been on holiday in France has probably had a neighbour named Gaston, Jacques, Louis, Claire or Françoise . We are used to those first names, they evocate the “France profonde”, sleepy villages at the end of a road, films of Pagnol or Rohmer. Walks along the Seine in de shadow of “Notre Dame” in the spring. Coffee at a terrace of the Boulevard Saint-Germain where an obsequious garçon, named Marcel, is looking at your girl friend or wife in a way you dot not really appreciate. This particular image of France is in danger. In a few years our total frame of reference could have disappeared.
Nowadays French parents let their imagination go freely when they are choosing first names for their children. Looking at recent entries in the civil registry, you will find rather unusual first names like Bulle, Héribert, Loeva, Hermès, Evolène, and Argan.
These first names have all kind of origins. For example, they can be a combination of first names (Timéo, which is derived from Timothée and Théo),or they are different writing forms of known first names (Lilou becomes Lee-Lou). We can also find names from Greek or Celtic mythology or even from literature, like Arwen, a character from the novel Lord of the Rings.
This interest for uncommon first names will of course have consequences for the processing of French data, especially if you take into consideration that these “new” first names, with a frequency less than 3000, are now in the majority. But this diversity will not necessary be a curse. Maybe we will be delivered from ambiguous names, of which we never know whether it is a first name or a surname. Consider the 3 most common surnames in France are Martin, Bernard and Thomas.
But don’t worry; in order to keep the challenge going when you process French data, names like Jacqueline-Germain, Jean Marie Marie Luce, Louise Alexandrine will of course not disappear entirely.
And next time you will be in France, enjoying a salade Niçoise with a cold glass of rosé, overlooking a harbor, where small fishing boots are dancing on the lazy waves, you just will have to get used to the fact that the waitress’s first name is not Marie but Fanchon or Eole.
Source: Le Parisien 19-02-2010 and “Les 4 000 plus beaux prénoms rares “, de Stéphanie Rapoport, chez First, 8,90 €