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Some Interesting Names Heard in France: From Lilou to Lazare

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By K. M. Sheard, Nook of Names

During a month spent in France a little while back, I came across quite a few interesting names.

These are some of the zestiest:

FILLES:

Aglaé. French form of the Greek mythological name Aglaia, “splendor” and “beauty.”

Alizée. Modern French name from alizé, “trade wind.” Popularized by the French singer Alizée Jacotey (b.1984).

Bérengère. Feminine form of the Old German name Berenger, “bear-spear.”

Cerise. Adoption of French word cerise, “cherry.”

Flavie. French form of Flavia, a Roman family name from Latin flavus “yellow.” Ilona. A Hungarian name. Elona is a variant form. Probably deriving ultimately from Helen.

Lilou. A modern name, popularized in France by its appearance (in the form Leeloo) in the film The Fifth Element (1997), ranking 12th. It probably began life as a pet-form of one of the many French names ending in -lie.  Other variants in regular use include Liloo, Leelou and Lylou.

Maëlys. A feminine form of the Breton name Maël, “prince” (a popular boy’s name in France too). Other forms include Maëlle, Mailys, Maelis and Maelyss.

Maïwenn. A modern Breton-style name, combining the Breton Mari (Mary) with the -wenn meaning “white” and “pure” — cognate of the Welsh (g)wen.

Océane. Another modern French name, meaning “ocean.”

Oriane. French form of Oriana, coined by Renaissance poets from the Latin orior, “to rise.”

Sirine. Probably from sirène, the French for “siren” — not the noisy alarm kind, but the alarming mythological monster of mesmeric voice, who lured sailors to their deaths. It also means “mermaid.”  Syrine is a variant.

Solenn. Further modern French name of uncertain origin. It may well have arisen simply as a variant of Solange, which is usually derived from sollemnis, “annual,” “established,” and “solemn.”

Taïs. French form of Thais, an Ancient Greek name meaning “bandage.”

GARÇONS:

Axel. Scandinavian form of biblical Hebrew Absalom, “father of peace.” The dashing Swedish Count Axel von Fersen (1755-1810) was a prominent figure of the court of Louis XVI. He was a close friend of Marie Antoinette, and many think he was her lover.

Clovis. An early form of Louis, used of the fifth-century King of Franks.

Elouan. One of many Breton names which have come into vogue in France in recent years. The name of a very obscure saint, “known” (insofar as the name is recorded!) in Cornwall as Elvan and Elven, and Welsh as Elwen. The etymology is very obscure. In France it tends to be derived from the Breton luh “light,” but this isn’t convincing. In Cornish, elven does mean “spark.”

Enzo.  Italian short form of names ending in -enzo, such as Lorenzo (Lawrence). Hugely popular in France at the moment, where it was recently ranked 3rd.

Farès. French form of an Arabic name (Faaris) meaning “horseman,” “knight.” Numerous names of Arabic origin are currently popular in France, and not just among the Islamic community.

Honoré. French form of Honoratus. A name I’ve always liked.

Ignace. French form of Ignatius.

Josse. A form of the Breton Jodoc, “little lord,” which first spread out of Brittany in the Middle Ages, when it is also found in England. There, the usual form became Joyce, and as time passed became exclusively female.

Kylian. The Irish Cillian. For some reason a big favorite in France, with numerous spellings found in the top 500, including Killian, Kyllian, Kilian, Celian, Kelyan, Kilyan and Kelian.

Lazare. French form of Lazarus, itself the Latin form of biblical Eleazar.

Loïc. Breton form of Louis (through the Latin form Ludovicus).

Loris. Another Italian diminutive of Lorenzo.

Loup. French name from Latin lupus ,“wolf.”

Matisse. Adoption of the French surname, made famous by the French artist Henri Matisse. Said to derive from Matthew.

Télesphore. French form of the Greek Telesphoros, the name in Greek mythology of a son of the healing God Asclepius. Telesphoros himself is the personification of getting better after sickness. Greek: telesphoros “bringing fulfillment,” “able to fulfill” and “bearing fruit in due season.” Little seen in France (or anywhere, for that matter) any more, but probably my favorite of the many wonderful French versions of classical names embraced at the time of the French Revolution.

Toussaint. Literal meaning in French: “all-saint.” Used since at least the eighteenth century.

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About the author

Nook of Names

A graduate of the University of Cambridge, K. M. Sheard is the author of the encyclopedic reference Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Names, and writes Nook of Names, a blog on all things onomastic.
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