How have French girl and boy names changed since 1900?

Baby girl and boy names have changed significantly in France over the past 100 years or so

The change in popular boy and girl names in France over the past 100 years has been documented and visualised in a new way, allowing people to “better understand the evolution of French society”.

In new analysis, news network the Huffington Post France has created a series of animated video bar charts - narrated tongue-in-cheek, in the style of a horse race - showing the changing popularity of names in France from 1900 to 2017.

They were inspired, they said, by a Financial Times “bar chart race” visualisation by data journalist John Burn-Murdoch, which used a similar method to show the changing demographics of major cities since the 16th century.

The full methodology is explained on their site.

 

The change in names cannot always be pinpointed to a specific reason, experts said, although wider trends may be picked up instead, as well as significant events such as the Second World War.

Similarly, for example, in 1956, the popularity of the “Martine” children’s books saw an accompanying rise in the popularity of that first name for girls in decades that followed.

Yet, Baptiste Coulmont, a sociologist specialising in names, said: “Even though we try to attribute certain ephemeral fashions to a specific cultural moment (such as a song or a film), in reality it can be difficult to explain each name.

“In contrast, it is possible to see background trends, which allow us to better understand the evolution of French society.”

Today, names are far more varied, including new influences and different spellings, and first names have become much more important, used everywhere from the workplace to ordering a taxi on your smartphone, to standing in line at a coffee shop.

Previously, family names would have been used far more.

 

Mr Coulmont said: “In the 50s, with a list of 120 names, you would have an 80% chance of being able to name someone in the street. In 2019, you would need a list of 2,000 names. Now, everyone calls you by your first name, and parents have taken note.”

In 1945, the most popular boy’s name, Jean, was given four times’ as much as the 10th most popular name, Pierre. In 2017, the most popular boys’ name, Gabriel, was only given twice as much as the 10th most popular, Nathan.

Among girls' names the effect was even more pronounced: In 1900, the name Marie was chosen ten times’ more than the 5th most popular, Yvonne.

 

Mr Coulmont explained that this lack of variety was quite logical: “Women’s first names were used very little outside of the family unit or household in the first half of the 20th century.”

Other trends were noticed: for example, in the 1990s, parents working in creative industries and those with more senior jobs were more likely to give their children more unusual names, compared to other social-economic groups.

The data also showed that names that soared in popularity quickly would later drop off the list just as fast, but those that started out as mildly popular would become seen as established and more “classic”, even if they were actually relatively new.

Yet, the study suggested that it can be difficult to predict which names will become classics, which will become overused, and which will drop in popularity.

Mr Coulmont said: “If I was to make a prediction, I would say that older names will make a comeback. For example, ‘Claudette’ is today associated with parents or grandparents. In contrast, ‘Suzanne’ - or other older names - may sound new today, because the generation that used to be called that has died out.”

Ultimately, the study showed that names often move in continuous cycles.

 

Top 10 boy names in France (Huffington Post France)

1945

1. Jean, 2. Michel, 3. Daniel, 4. Gerard, 5. Bernard, 6. Alain, 7. Jacques, 8. André, 9. Claude, 10. Pierre

2017

1. Gabriel, 2. Louis, 3. Raphael, 4. Jules, 5. Adam, 6. Lucas, 7. Léo, 8. Hugo, 9. Arthur, 10. Nathan

Top 10 girl names in France (Huffington Post France)

1945

1. Marie, 2. Jeanne, 3. Marguerite, 4. Germaine, 5. Louise, 6. Yvonne, 7. Madeleine, 8. Suzanne, 9. Marthe, 10. Marcelle

2017

1. Emma, 2. Louise, 3. Jade, 4. Alice, 5. Chloë, 6. Lina, 7. Mila, 8. Léa, 9. Manon, 10. Lola

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