French-Accented Baby Names: Jeanette, Cosette, Colette
by Jeanette Soto
The name Jeanette was given to me by my young, hip parents during the infamous Chicago heat wave of 1987. The name had been out of fashion for over four decades and not coming back in style any time soon. The minute I learned how to spell it, I was frustrated by all the other people who couldn’t. One girl in grammar school insisted that it should be spelled with a ‘G’ because it sounded “too hard” to be spelled with a ‘J. Most often, people spell my name with one too many N’s or one to few T’s; misspellings include Jeannette, Janet, Jennet, Jenette, Jenet, Ginette and Ginet, but practically nobody gets it right.
Why did my parents give me a name that wasn’t just dated, but came with a slew of spellings? My mother’s excuse: Pregnancy amnesia, or brain fog caused by pregnancy hormones. It came over my mother at the time she was trying to remember the name she wanted to give me, so Colette Madeleine morphed into Jeanette Ashley.
What other names have Jeanette’s retro -ette ending and unusual style? Here, some choices:
Alouette. Alouette is a beautiful, rarely used bird name. You may remember the old childhood song ‘Alouette, Gentile Alouette‘, which is about –ew! plucking apart a bird. Not quite the image you want to conjure up with your child’s name, but Alouette still has a very pleasant sound.
Claudette: For a long time associated with Golden Age Hollywood actress Claudette Colbert, it peaked in 1938 at Number 238, but is uncommon nowadays and may pose a comeback for all those retro name-lovers out there.
Colette: The name I was almost given is the French short-form of Nicole. Its meaning is ‘Victory of the people’ and is still quite stylish. There is a very trendy store of the same name in France. Related to the writer whose last name was actually Colette, it was used by Dylan McDermott for his daughter.
Lizette: Also spelled Lisette, this name has cute nickname potential in Liz and Lizzy. This is a very pretty, delicate name from yesteryear; on the US popularity list from 1965 to 2005, could be a Liza substitute..
Odette is a hauntingly beautiful French name meaning ‘Wealthy’ and has several positive associations from the world of literature, most notably Proust‘s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, and the good swan in Swan Lake. Mark Ruffalo chose it for his daughter.
Now that I am a little older, I appreciate my name. Not only do I have fun nickname options like Jenna, my nickname at college; Netta, the nickname given to me by my parents, and Gemma, a trendy name gaining popularity around England and the U.S., but I also have a name I share with only a handful of women of my generation. I think it is a Rite de Passage for everyone to feel a disconnection from their names at one point in their life. When you’re a child, you want to fit in. When you’re a teenager, you want to stand out. And when you’re an adult, you want to embrace your true nature.
Jeanette Soto is a Chicago native and college student who studies Journalism. She is known as Netta5187 on Nameberry and enjoys making lists of names, especially unusual ones, from around the world. In her free time, she works on her style blog What I Wore Last Night and keeps up with new name trends.
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on May 5th, 2014 at 5:37 am
I think Jeanette is a lovely name! I have seen variations of it with two Ns or one T, but never any of the others. But then, even such a common name as Jennifer can attract a slew of misspellings. I’ve had people spell my name with all kinds of variations – one N, two Fs, Y instead of I, I instead of E, G instead of J, and combinations of all of the above!
on May 5th, 2014 at 1:27 pm
I love classy Jeanette but prefer the Jeannette spelling; it looks cleaner and more balanced. It’s how Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle (one of my favourite memoirs ever) spelled her name. I’d probably forget how to spell Jeanette too- is it the N or the T that gets doubled?! (I also have trouble with words like recommend and embarrass.) With Jeannette, they both are, simple.
on May 5th, 2014 at 8:03 pm
I love -ette names and could care less that they’re dated in France! Claudette is on my list, and the beautiful Bernadette. I couldn’t think of one cuter than Suzette. So many great -ette names!
on May 5th, 2014 at 8:23 pm
Ninette twice… all I can hear is kids teasing ninny/nincompoop
on May 5th, 2014 at 10:18 pm
Nice post. Note also that French names with the accent on the second syllable make great middles (think of last generation’s Marie or Nicole) because they flow so well with popular English names.
Many of the names on this list would be a wonderful, updated twist on the dated middles that we and our parents were given.
on May 6th, 2014 at 4:46 pm
I adore the name Jeanette! I grew up surrounded by neighbors I looked up to, and the oldest, coolest girl was named Jeanette. If it wasn’t so closely associated with her, it might have made it onto my list. Don’t get me wrong, she’s wonderful, but there is enough of an age gap between us that we weren’t all that close. She was one of my first babysitters, and years later I babysat her kids!
As it is, we ended up choosing Anoinette for one of our girls, due this summer.
on October 27th, 2014 at 8:10 am
Lizette and Lisette are pronounced differently. Lizette is said with a hard Z and Lisette with a soft s like miss.
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