New French Baby Names Landscape: Kevin and Khaleesi
By Clarice Bourgeois
Can you name the current most popular baby names in France? Are you thinking Jean? Jules? Margot or, perhaps, Louise? You would be wrong. For the past few years, Nathan, Enzo, Noah, Matteo and Timéo have been topping the boys’ names’ charts, while many little girls were named Inès, Clara and Emma.
There are several reasons that might explain the current French open-mindedness when it comes to naming their children.
France being at the center of Europe, many waves of immigration have made the country’s culture richer and more diverse. Since the fifties, the French have been familiarized with names from Spain, Portugal, Italy, northern Africa and Eastern countries, so that foreign names have always been a part of contemporary parents’ lives. As a result, naming your son Gianni can be an homage to a late Italian grandfather or just an expression of a mother’s love for Italy’s way of life and culture.
While not the empire it once was, France‘s territory still extends to the Pacific (Tahiti, New Caledonia), Indian Ocean (Mauritius, Réunion); South America (Guyana), Europe (Corsica). Yet though all these countries belong to France they each have their own history, culture and naming traditions, sometimes far removed from the classic French ones.
Many bi-cultural couples thus often decide to honor their homeland (for example, Moana and Teva are Tahitian names that most French people are familiar with), or use a name which works in both cultures: Yannis, Adam and Inès have been very popular amongst the Franco-Arabic community for a few years.
Like everywhere in the world (or so it seems), French parents want their child’s name to be original, if not unique. So they don’t hesitate to either alter an existing name, create a new one, or pick names from totally different cultures, even it if means altering the spelling, and sometimes its meaning. The most famous example might be Thylane Blondeau, controversial child-model and daughter of a French TV presenter. Thylane is actually a Vietnamese name her mother heard while there on holiday. She decided to spell it Thylane instead of Thi-Lân – which actually means “Little Wild Orchid.” The meaning often gets lost in such processes, but the originality stands out.
Pop culture also heavily influences French parents in their name choices. TV shows played a major role for French children born in the 70s and 80s: while none of our playground friends were called Brian or Kelly, we would hear these names every day in our livingrooms, thanks to the many American shows aired on French TV. In the 80s, Jessicas, Jennifers as well as Steves and Anthonys, appeared massively and became “normal” names for the average French… and judged as a little white trash by higher social classes. The “TV effect” really became obvious in the 90s when, in 1991 and 1992, Kévin became THE most given boy name in every region of France. Kévin, via its Celtic origin, is also a French name, whose feast day is celebrated on the third of June, and was very rarely used before then, except in Brittany (Bretons love their Celtic names!). Kévin boomed because of Kevin Costner‘s extreme popularity in the country after Dances with Wolves was released in September 1990, and because of the huge success of Home Alone, starring Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McAllister.
In the late 90s and the noughts, fans of Beverly Hills 90210 started having kids and many French baby boys were named Brandon and Dylan. Nowadays, this trend has shifted to girls’ names, with the emergence of Aria and Khaleesi, and even Rihanna – although these names remain pretty unusual. Ryan, Noah and Nathan remain the most popular Anglo-American names in France.
The final reason for French parents to be so open to new names and different cultures is that –and I might come under fire for this – French names have become boring to us. Don’t get me wrong, I like classic French names. But up until the 80s or even the 90s, we often heard the same traditional names– Maxime, Thomas, Benjamin, Alexandre, Antoine, and Matthieu for boys, and Claire, Julie, Marie, Lucie, Jeanne, and Louise for girls over and over again. These names are all right, but not very diverse. The French calendar, source of official first names for centuries, only counts 211 boys names and 118 for girls. And until the twentieth century, when naming a child, parents had no other choices but those in this calendar. Now, centuries of name-choosing frustration, parents can finally go wild and absorb foreign cultures in their quest for the perfect modern and stylish baby name.
Some might say the French are losing a part of their identity by avoiding traditional names, but I prefer to think that we’re creating new standards.