Très French Names You Won’t Hear at the American Playground

Très French Names You Won’t Hear at the American Playground

Some French baby names are very “en vogue” right now in America (Camille, Chloé, Olivier), and others are eternally chic (Juliette, Brigitte, Louis). But some interesting French names won’t be topping American baby name lists anytime soon.

Since moving to Paris, I’ve encountered a lot of new names. And of course, names that are common in one country can get easily lost in translation (or pronunciation) in another. In France, “Where’s Waldo?” is “Où est Charlie?” Luckily I’m too old for school-age taunting, but that surely would have replaced my schoolyard Charlie the Tuna-themed taunts had I been raised in France instead of America.

These names only sound “different” to me because I have an English-speaking ear. Most, if not all, sound perfectly lovely to a French person. Yes, my (future) children will also be French, but it is preferable that people in my home country could pronounce their names too. So no, I will not be bestowing these “prénoms” on them either.

Boy Names

Fewer fundamentally French boy names seem to have made the jump to English-speaking kids than girl names. Perhaps because Theophile or Guillaume (French version of William) do not lend themselves well to American pronunciations, or because so many popular boy names are deeply rooted in religion (see: Jean-Baptiste and Corentin). My husband’s name is also an American name, but I’ve wondered how our international courtship may have been different if he had been an Octave or Gustave instead.

A few of the boys’ names you’re not likely to encounter on the playground in the U.S. include:

  • Hippolyte: A name rooted in Greek mythology and also the name of a saint. Pronounced “ee-po-leet,” in French, but let’s get real your child would be called Hippo for his entire life.
  • Lancelot: Kid better have a high tolerance for “round table” themed jokes.
  • Titouan: A variation of the name Antoine popular in the Brittany region.
  • Gaspard: So French, and just a little too close to Gaston from Beauty and the Beast.
  • Clovis: Name of the first king of France who also gave France its name, but sounds aromatic or equine to English ears.

Girl Names

It is harder to find a perplexing French girl name. Just as with everything else, their names are simply more chic in general than us Anglo-Saxons. One of the most popular female baby names right now is Manon, which I’ve never heard in the States, but is still adorable and stylish. Same with the popular Jeanne (French Joan), the Provence-native Lilou and Brittany-region moniker Maëlys (though this name would be a spelling nightmare in America).

However, there are a few girls’ names that may not work well for English-speaking kids including:

  • Capucine: Might as well name your kid Frappuccino to American ears.
  • Axelle: Middle name has got to be Rose, obviously.
  • Océane: Quite common in France, but this nautical name hasn’t caught on in the States.
  • Faustine: Meaning lucky or fortunate, but a little harsh sounding when pronounced with an American accent.
  • Apolline: This is a popular and chic baby name with Parisian moms right now. It reminds me of Purple Rain and Appolonia, but that isn’t necessarily a negative!

Interested in more French names? You can check out the most popular baby names in France from 2015 and earlier here.

Any eclectic French names you absolutely love? Leave a comment and share!

3 thoughts on “Très French Names You Won’t Hear at the American Playground”

  • Manon (Québécoise) is the name if the first woman to play in the NHL. I like Aurelie, a Latin-derived name meaning “golden.” It works well in English and in Romance languages in general.

    My full first name ends in an “n.” I have to pretend it ends in an “enne” or I get a boy’s name…

  • Do you know the French female first name “Prune” ? In French it is cute and quite sophisticated, it means plum. Some girls are also named “Mirabelle”, which is a kind of plum too. But in English, well… I try to tell my French friends that it is like naming their girl “pruneau”… not very classy !!!!

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