French Names and How to Pronounce Them + Hidden Meanings
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Everything You Wanted to Know About French Names But Were Too Afraid to Ask

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FRENCH NAMES

Different cultures have different naming traditions, and in France, French first names reflect its language and culture. Whether you’re looking for a French name for your baby, learning how to pronounce them or simply just satisfying your curiosity about French names, this article will help you.

Most of us, especially those with not-so-common names, have sat through one situation or another where a person we’re talking to is murdering our names by pronouncing it the wrong way.

And deep inside you are, like:

Now imagine what it’s like for French people. French words are notoriously difficult to pronounce for non-French, and names are no different. To give you an idea, check out this short Buzzfeed video where Americans try to say French names.

If you found yourself fumbling through the names just like the people in the video, don’t worry, this article will tell you everything you’ve always been wondering about French names. We’ll address those questions one by one, and after reading this article, you’ll be one step closer to speaking to French people with confidence.

Ready to explore French names further? Let’s go!

First things first…

I. French Name Basics

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, keep these things in mind:

Counterparts in other languages

Most French names have versions in other languages, especially English. For example, Éléonore is Eleanor while Guillaume is William. There are few, however, which are uniquely French. The most unusual names will be listed later, too. So watch out for that.

Most traditional French names are gender-specific

Masculine names can be made feminine and vice versa, by adding or omitting a few letters. Often you can change a masculine name to feminine when you add –e, -ine, or –ette. Jean, for instance, becomes Jeanne, Jeanine, and Jeanette with the addition of the mentioned suffixes.

Some cases, the spellings change to accommodate the feminine counterpart just like Frédéric (M) which becomes Frédérique (F). A few names are gender-neutral or unisex like Dominique, Camille or Maxime. But just like in other languages, names are increasingly becoming modern and unconventional.

Hyphenated names are very popular

This is why you’ll see a lot of Jean-Claude, Jean-Baptiste, Pierre-Louis, Marie-Eloise and many others. The names are usually combined from two names of the same gender, like Jean-Marc, but sometimes, you’ll come across hyphenated French names composed of one male name and the other a female name, like Jean-Marie.

No need to be confused with the gender though. Just remember that the first name in the hyphenated sequence is the correct gender. Therefore, Pierre- Marie is a male name while Marie-Pierre is a female name.

Another important detail about hyphenated names is that both names are considered a single unit: not two separate names but a single first name. This is why you don’t take liberties of calling Jean-Luc as just Jean or Pierre-Louis as simply Pierre. Address them by their names Jean-Luc and Pierre-Louis. Because that’s just how it is.

Saint names

Traditionally, French names were based on saints from the Roman Catholic calendar of saints. This explains the prevalence of names like Pierre (Peter), Jacques (James), and Marie (Mary). On top of that, did you know that in the 18th century, French names used to be restricted by the law and limited only to popular saints’ names?

A new law was passed in 1966 which allowed additional foreign and regional names, diminutives, mythological names, and alternative spellings to be used. And finally, in 1993, French parents may already name their kids without any type of legal constraints. (Source: Wikipedia)

Capitalization of surnames

You might also have noticed that it’s common for French people to capitalize the letters in their surnames, here’s the reason for that. In case you’re wondering why, many people in France have last names which are also first names. So to avoid a potentially awkward situation, the capitalization distinguishes first names from last names.


Take a look at the top 50 surnames in France. See how most of them are first names, too? Yup, that’s why.

1.
Martin
11.
Simon
21.
Morel
31.
Legrand
41.
Perrin
2.
Bernard
12.
Laurent
22.
Girard
32.
Garnier
42.
Morin
3.
Dubois
13.
Lefebvre
23.
Andre
33.
Faure
43.
Mathieu
4.
Thomas
14.
Michel
24.
Lefevre
34.
Rousseau
44.
Clement
5.
Robert
15.
Garcia
25.
Mercier
35.
Blanc
45.
Gauthier
6.
Richard
16.
David
26.
Dupont
36.
Guerin
46.
Dumont
7.
Petit
17.
Bertrand
27.
Lambert
37.
Muller
47.
Lopez
8.
Durand
18.
Roux
28.
Bonnet
38.
Henry
48.
Fontaine
9.
Leroy
19.
Vincent
29.
Francois
39.
Roussel
49.
Chevalier
10.
Moreau
20.
Fournier
30.
Martinez
40.
Nicolas
50.
Robin

II. Common French names, their pronunciation and hidden meanings

Now for the list of the usual French names. You might have read these names already in books, history, movies, or pop culture, but what you might not know is how exactly to pronounce them as well as the meanings behind it.

We have divided the names into fifty each for female and male. Take note, however, that the pronunciations are in basic phonetics, for an easier grasp and understanding, even for those who have not studied IPA.

Common Female French Names

NamePronunciation Meaning
1.     Adélaïde a-day-la-EEDnoble
2.     AiméeAY-meebeloved
3.     AgatheA-GATKind
4.     AmélieAH-may-leeHardworking, Industrious, Eager
5.     Anaïsah nah EESGrace
6.     Aurélieow-reh-LEEGolden
7.     Auroreow-RORdawn
8.     Bernadetteber-na-DEHTbrave
9.     Blancheblawnshwhite, fair
10.  Brigittebree-ZHEETStrength, Mythological Celtic Goddess of fire and poetry
11.  Camillekah-meelFree-born, Noble
12.  Capucinekah pu SEENCape
13.  Célinesay-LEENsky or heaven
14.  Célestesay-LEST heavenly
15.  Chantalshaw(n)-TAHLsinger
16.  Charlèneshar-LENstrong woman
17.  Clémentineklay-maw(n)-TEENmild, merciful
18.  Chloéklo-AYfresh, blooming
19.  Delphinedel-FEENblessed; named after a saint
20.  Éliseay-LEEZDevoted to God
21.  ÉloïseEH-loh-eezIntelligent, Smart
22.  Esméeez-MAYesteemed
23.  Estéeez-TAYstar
24.  Fleurfloohrflower
25.  Francoisefrahn SWAHZfree
26.  Gaëllegaa-EHLcheerful, happy
27.  Genevievezhuhn-VYEHVtribe woman, the patron saint of Paris
28.  Hélèneay-LEN most beautiful, bright
29.  Inèsee-NESPure
30.  JeannezhahnGod is gracious
31.  Laëtitialay-tee-siaHappy
32.  Louiseloo-EESFamous warrior
33.  Maévamah-ay-vaCould either mean “welcome” or “intoxicating”
34.  Manonmah-NAW(n)Bitter
35.  Margauxmahr-GOPearl
36.  MaëlleMAH-elPrincess, ambitious
37.  MaelysMAH eh lissPrincess
38.  Martinemahr-TEENwar-like
39.  Mathilde mah TEELDStrong in war
40.  MarionMAh-ree-unLittle Mary
41.  Méganemeg-AHNNPearl
42.  Mireillemee RAYMiracle
43.  Noëlleno-elChristmas
44.  Noemieno ay MEEPleasant
45.  Océaneo-say-AHNof the sea
46.  Ophélieo-fay-LEESerpentine
47.  Salomésah LO maypeaceful, tranquil
48.  Severine say vuh REENStern
49.  Stéphaniestay-fa-NEECrowned in victory
50.  Virginieveer-zhee-NEE spring-like, flourishing

Common Male French names

Name Pronunciation Meaning
1.     Aloïsah-LOW-eesFamous warrior
2.     Amauryah-mo-REEA count’s name; nobleman
3.     Antoineahn-TWANPriceless ; praise-worthy
4.     Arnaudarh-NOPowerful Eagle
5.     Baptistebah-TEESTA baptizer
6.     Benoitben-WABlessed
7.     CharlesSHAHRLManly
8.     CélianSAY-lia(n)Heavenly
9.     Christophekris-TOFChrist bearer
10.  Claudeklohd Lame
11.  Diandreday-ahn-DRAHManly; virile
12.  Edouardehd-WAHRWealthy guardian
13.  Etienneee-TEE-ehnCrowned
14.  Eugeneoo-zhehnWell-born; noble
15.  Francisfrah(n)-SEHSFree
16.  Françoisfrah(n)-SWAHFree
17.  Frédéricfreh-duh-REEKPeaceful ruler
18.  Gabrielgah-bree-YEL« God is my strength »
19.  Gaétangah-ay-TA(N)From Gaete
20.  GastonGAH-sto(n)From Gascony ; could also mean ‘stranger’
21.  Gaspardgah-SPARTreasurer
22.  Geoffroyzhaw-FRAHPeaceful
23.  GeorgeszhorzFarmer
24.  Guillaumeghee-YOHMResolute protector
25.  Gustavegoo-STAHVstaff of the gods
26.  Henriaw(n)-ree Ruler of the enclosure
27.  Herberter-BERIllustrious warrior
28.  JacquesZHAHKSupplanter
29.  JeanZHAH(n) God is gracious
30.  Jérômezheh-ROHMHoly name
31.  Julienzhoo-lee-AW(n)Youthful
32.  Laurentlo-RAW(n)Crowned with laurels
33.  Leonlay-oh(n)Brave as a lion
34.  Loïclo-EEKFamous warrior
35.  Louisloo-EEEFamous warrior
36.  LucLuhkBringer of light
37.  Maëlmah-ELPrince
38.  MarcMAHRK Warlike
39.  Marceaumahr-SOWarlike
40.  Melchiormel-KYORKing
41.  MathéoMAH-tay-oGift from God
42.  Mathismah-TEESGift from God
43.  Michelmee-SHELLLike God
44.  Nicolasnee-koh-LAHVictory of the people
45.  Olivieroh-lee-vee-yayFrom the olive tree
46.  Pierrepee-EHRRock
47.  Stephanesteh-FAHNCrowned
48.  Thierryteh-REERuler of the people
49.  VincentVIN-suhntConquering
50.  YvesEEVArcher

III. Unusual French names

If you happen to be on the lookout for the coolest-sounding unique French names for your baby, or simply just interested to see a list of the most unusual French names, well, look no further. Here’s a small list of rarely used French names that you probably never heard of before, including their pronunciations.

Unusual French Boys’ names

Calixtecah-LEEXT
CoriolanCO-ryo-la(n)
Jessimezhess-EEM
Josquinzho-ska(n)
Maixentmekk-sa(n)
MajoricMAH-jo-rick
NévenoéNAY-ven-NO-ay
NominoëNO-mee-NO-ay
Thibaldtee-BALD
TitouanTEE-twa(n)
Zachaël zack-ah-EL
ZénonZAY-no(n)

Unusual French Girls’ names

AglaéAH-GLah-ey
Anouk AH-nook
AmaranteAH-mah-raw(n)t
AudraA-druh
BijouxBee-ZHOO
BrielBRI-YAHL
Cantrelle kan-TRELL
Desneige Deh-NEHZH
EtoileEh-TWAL
Isabeauee-sah-BOH
Naevaney-VAH
NanonNa-NON

IV. Famous French people and how to say their names

There are quite a number of important French people in art, music, and current events. And often, these names could come up in small talks or business chit-chats. How do you say their names without committing a social faux pas?

Here is a list of popular French names and a basic pronunciation guide, plus a quick reminder of who the person is.

Popular French Names in Music

Name
How to say it?
Who is he?
Adolphe-Charles Adam
ah-dolf sharl ah-DAHM
A French composer and music critic.
Charles-Henri Alkan
sharl   aw(n)-ree ahl-KAH(n)
Pianist and composer.
Claude Debussy
klohd   deh-bu-SEE
composer
Guillaume Dufay
ghee-yohm   du-fiy (rhymes with sky)
Franco-flemish composer during the early Renaissance
Camille Saint-Saëns
kuh-meel sah(n)-saw(n)z
Composer, organist and conductor in French romantic era
Josquin Des Prez
zho-ska(n) da-PRAY
Renaissance composer

 

Popular French Names in Politics

Name
How to say it?
Who is he again?
Jacques Chirac
ZHAHK     SHEE-RAHK
Former French president
Charles de Gaulle
SHAHRL duh – GOHL
Statesman and general.
François Hollande
frahn-SWAH     oh-LAHN-(deh)
French President
Nicolas Sarkozy
nee-koh-LAH     sahr-koh-ZEE
Former French president

 

Popular French Names in Art

Name
How to say it?
Who is he again?
Auguste Rodin
Oh-GOOST Roh-DAN
French sculptor
Georges Seurat
zhorzh sir-AH
Post-impressionist painter
Le Corbusier
luh cor-boo-see-YAY
Swiss-French architect, designer and planner
Louis Daguerre
loo-EEE Da-GAIR
Artist and photographer
Gustave Courbet
Goo-STAHV Kor-BAY
French realist painter
Yves Tanguy
eev tang-ee
Surrealist painter
Louise Bourgeois
loo-ees boo-ZHWA
French-american artist and sculptor
Paul Gauguin
Pohl go-GAHN
Post-impressionist artist
Renoir
ren-WA
Impressionist painter
Eugene Delacroix
oo-zhen dela-qua
French romantic artist


Conclusion

There you have it. Everything you need to know about French names that we could possibly fit in one article. Should you have any comments, please do not hesitate to sound off in the comments section below.

Looking for French nicknames to call your loved ones? Here's a good list of French terms of endearment!

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Until the next article! Merci beaucoup!

About the Author Frederic Bibard

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Twitter and Google +

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