By Mélissa Delahaye of Jolis Prénoms
With French baby names, two clear trends have emerged in baby naming: short, simple, two-syllable names and the return to vintage/ancient names. With a heavy preponderance of girl names ending with -a and the growing success of biblical names, there are many overlaps with U.S. trends. French parents are also largely returning to tradition when it comes to naming their children, and old-fashioned names are making their comeback. Name popularity goes in cycles and a growing number of French parents are exploring the branches of their family trees to find inspiration.
Here is a selection of classic names that are either on the rise or already big hits in France, but not as well used in the US:
Colette is the short form of Nicolette, diminutive of Nicole. Last popular in the 1940s, when it hit the Top 10, this vintage name is back in style. Like the outstanding French writer (born Sidonie–Gabrielle).,with whom the name is closely associated, Colette is a chic and charming appellation that is being rediscovered in France.
Blanche— A saint’s name, Blanche was a royal name in France by the 12th century. Meaning “white,” like Bianca in Italy and Blanca in Spain, Blanche originated as a nickname for a pale blonde and then became associated with the notion of purity. Blanche blends grace and femininity and is starting to be heard in playgrounds again!
Victoire derives inspiration from the Latin victoria, which means, as you can easily guess, “victory.” Having been neglected for a while but never abandoned, Victoire was revived in the 1980s and is now a huge favorite in France, a classy alternative to the somewhat tired Victoria.
Céleste– This name is perfect for a little angel, with its soft and lovely meaning of “heavenly.” It also has several French variants including Célestin (boy) and Célestine (girl). A popular name during the 1920s, Céleste has a truly ethereal charm.
Suzanne— The French variant of Susannah and Susan, Suzanne is attractive with its distinctive “z” and quite fragrantly floral as it derives from the Hebrew shoshannah, meaning “lily.” This lovely vintage classic is now fashionable again.
Adèle You might be honoring the British singer, but Adèle is actually a French name of German origin meaning “noble”. Both a saint’s and a royal name, Adèle is short and sweet but projects a lot of personality. Longer form Adélaïde is even more sophisticated.
Margaux/Margot has its roots in the Greek margaritês, meaning “pearl”. Château Margaux is one of the Bordeaux region’s top wines and French parents tend to favor that chic geographic spelling. An elegant alternative to Margaret!
Violette is a melodic and colorful baby name that recently has come back as a favorite for nature-loving parents. The discreet charm of this tiny little flower has long been associated with modesty and humility.
Camille is a unisex name in France, as in painter Camille Pissarro. In fact before 1940, it was mostly a boy name. After World War 2, the name slowly feminized until it appeared in the French Top 3 for girls in 1998! In recent years, Camille has been making a powerful comeback for baby boys. It is a perfect name for parents who want something soft and classic but also very stylish and elegant.
Marcel is a boy’s name of French origin meaning “little warrior”. Oscar-winning actor Marion Cotillard was an early adopter when she named her son Marcel in 2011. It is a popular option for the French with its retro feel and bold meaning.
Léon, a boy’s name of German-Greek origin meaning “lion,” is one of the leonine names that is extremely hot in France right now as it is perfectly suited to the current trend towards shorter, easily memorable names. Other French alternatives include Léandre, Léonard and Léonie.
Lucien derives from the Latin word lux meaning “light”. In use since Roman antiquity when it was given to boys born at dawn, Lucien is a sweet and charming name with a beautiful meaning that is finally getting noticed.
Marceau is a variation of Marcel that evokes energy and strength, but also a strong sensitivity via its soft ending. More commonly known as a surname (as in Marcel Marceau), this sweet retro name is now considered as a cool baby name option.
Lazare, the French form of Lazarus, itself the Latin form of Eleazar, recently has been rising from the dead. Quirky yet powerful, this Greek name meaning “God has helped”, is almost as popular today as it was in 1900. It’s a perfect name for parents looking for an uncommon, yet meaningful biblical name.
Gaspard— In Christian tradition, Gaspard is the name of one of the Three Wise Men, along with Melchior and Balthazar. Gaspard was barely used before 2000 but more and more French parents are warming to this ancient name. A historic choice, with a touch of mystery.
Zéphyr– In Greek mythology, Zephyrus was the personification of the west wind and the bringer of Spring. There is something intriguing about this lovely vintage name that, with its light and breezy aura, and it has been making a quiet resurgence in recent years. Another choice that will appeal to parents looking for a boy’s name that is rare yet not overly popular.
Mélissa Delahaye, mother of Rosalie, Bertille and Ambroise, created her website Jolis Prenoms in 2012, frustrated because she and her husband love old and retro baby names, when on the web at that time no French specialized sites existed. The site is filled with interesting lists, analysis and personal testaments on French baby names. In 2014, Melissa launched a new category of posts, “Jolies fratries” (pretty sibsets), where mamas explain how they chose the names of their children and the stories behind these choices.