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Urban myth or true: Is it illegal to call a pig Napoleon in France?

The rumour is decades old, we ask an historian if it is really against the law to name a pig after the French emperor

Napoleon and a pig

George Orwell’s Animal Farm pig was a Berkshire boar called Napoleon until an editor changed it to Caesar in the first French edition Pic: K-photography10 / Everett Collection / Shutterstock

Naming a pig after the emperor Napoleon is not unconstitutional – contrary to a popular belief that was widely covered by French newspapers, The Connexion has found.

Many believe the urban myth

The ongoing debate referred to a law enacted either during the First Empire (1804-1815) or the Second Empire (1852-1870) although none has been found, a historian confirmed. 

The most plausible explanation may come from the decision of a French editor to change George Orwell’s Animal Farm pig’s name from Napoleon to Caesar in the first French edition of the book in 1947.

The belief is still widely circulating among the population, with a petition requesting the suppression of the non-existing law and a restaurant named Napoleon with a mascot pig in an effort to flout the “law”.

Read more: Truth or myth?: Napoleon and the story of the truncated pyramid cheese

Historian searched legal archives

“The law simply does not exist,” said Sophie Muffat, a naval historian with a specialty from the Directoire period (1795-1799) to the First Empire and a member of the Napoléon Foundation, adding she was “intellectually challenged” by the foundation. 

Ms Muffat said she combed through every law from both the First and the Second Empire as mentioned in various quirky French articles about France’s bizarre laws before concluding that it is non-existent.

Tracing origins of myth

Ms Muffat was then faced with tracing back to where the rumour could have originated, concluding that only two pigs were named after the emperor: one in George Orwell’s famous book and the other in a French restaurant.

The first French version of Animal Farm, published by O. Pathé in 1947, replaced the pig’s name Napoleon, with Caesar. 

Ms Muffat said the editor may have been motivated by admiration for Napoleon although she did not find any official document having explained the decision. 

A second version published by Gallimard in 1981 switched back to Napoleon. 

Gallimard’s archive office did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Napoleon Bonaparte was never portrayed as a pig

Ms Muffat said the rumour is even more bizarre considering no French and English cartoonists portray Napoleon under the traits of a pig, having found only drawings of a rooster, ogre, monkey and even a dragon. 

Still, the belief has continued among the French population. 

Petition to remove non-existent law

A petition asking to remove the ancient, non-existing law was launched in 2013 and gathered 31 signatories. 

The decision was motivated because “France is a free country in which everybody should be giving their animals the name they want.”

Restaurant tries to flout ‘law’

The French Bons Vivants restaurant chain also decided to name their mascot pig after the emperor Napoleon to celebrate the opening of one of their restaurants in Agen (Lot-et-Garonne).

The owners created dedicated Facebook and Instagram pages to provide news of the 10-month-old, 90kg porker. 

Les Bons Vivants did not answer several solicitations from The Connexion to comment on the story. 

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