PARENTS of newborns in the UK have more than a month in which to decide whether to call their baby Jack or Oliver, but in France new parents are under pressure to commit to a name in just three days.
At least in the 19th century new parents in France had a very limited selection of names from as parents were obliged to name their child after one of the saints listed on the calendar.
So while there were a lot of Maries and Jeans around, there were also a few children called Toussaint, and Fetnat, particularly in the Dom Toms, named after the Fête Nationale included on the calendar.
Registrars became a lot more tolerant in the 20th century, explains Marie Férey, author of Le petit Larousse des Prénoms. In 1993 the rules were relaxed and parents can now choose any name they want as long as it is in the best interest of the child.
“This means that any ridiculous name will be refused, as well as any phonetic wordplay between the child’s name and surname,” says Ms Férey. “You couldn’t call a child Jean Bon, which sounds like jambon, for example.”
“One name that is not illegal but is never used is Adolphe, because the memory of Adolph Hitler is still very present in our culture.”
In the 20th century parents named their children after their favourite stars, which probably explains the popularity of Sylvie (Vartan), Brigitte (Bardot), Catherine (Deneuve) and Stéphanie (of Monaco).
From the 1970s, parents were influenced by American TV and its film stars, says Ms Férey, and picked anglophone names to lend them an air of sophistication and lead others to believe they were fluent in English. “The success of the name Kevin, for example, was linked to Kevin Costner.”
These days there is a trend towards biblical and retro names, in particular from the 19th century, says Ms Férey. Fashionable names include Emile, Jules, Joseph and Louis for boys and Alice, Louise, Rose and Joséphine for girls.
In 2013 Emma was the most popular girls name and Nathan was the top name for boys.