Forget the Revolution - a posh name will still take you far in France

Nabila Ramdani explores how coveted aristocratic names show the class system is alive and kicking in France

Critics of Valérie Giscard d’Estaing, France’s late conservative president, said he was a lowly peasant whose father bought the family ‘de’ in the 1920s

In the country that coined the expressions nouveau riche and parvenu, it’s not surprising that names still have much to do with social standing.

As in Britain, and despite the Revolution, there remains an undeniable class system associated with Gallic nomenclature.

Read more: What does ‘de’ mean in a French surname: Is it a sign of nobility?

Thus, a Henri will be considered aristocratically upmarket, while a Kevin is – well – a bit ordinary.

Such distinctions become even clearer when surnames come into it.

A Henri Ambly des Ayvelles d’Armagnac won’t need to hand you his CV for you to work out that he’s a confirmed toff.

He’s likely to be linked to long beheaded Royals and has quite possibly inherited a fortune thanks to ancestral ties with alcoholic drinks.

Ditto a Kevin Dupont will be the equivalent of a Kevin Smith in Britain – most probably someone with no aspirations to grandeur whatsoever.

Aristocrats protective of their lineage

The latest extreme example of all this is the case of Emmanuel Taché, a very ordinary chap born into the Greater Paris town of Montreuil in 1975.

He’s changed his name to Emmanuel Taché de la Pagerie and – comically – is facing legal action from a family called Tascher de la Pagerie.

Yes, they spell their name slightly differently but, they argue, they are a small elite going back centuries, and they want to keep it that way.

Don’t want association with ‘upstart oik’

More importantly, they do not want to be mixed up with an upstart oik from the ‘burbs who is unlikely to have been anywhere near La Pagerie, their Normandy estate.

Read more: Far right French MP accused of stealing aristocratic surname

The Tascher de la Pagerie are descendants of Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife, no less.

Her birth name in 1763 was Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie.

Boney later set himself up as a champion of the 1789 Revolution – one that officially swept away class privilege – but Madame became Empress Joséphine, and adopted as many airs and graces as the deposed Kings and Queens.

Posh name at odds with manifesto

Duplicity is common among those who gain absolute power, and fiercely defending privilege is still clearly a trait among French families such as the Tascher de la Pagerie.

Emmanuel Taché sounds just as much of a phoney too, because he’s now a member of parliament, representing the populist Rassemblement national (National Rally) RN party – one that is meant to be opposed to the establishment, and on the side of ordinary people struggling with the cost of living.

Calling yourself Taché de la Pagerie does not fit in with that remit at all.

It might work in Britain – a nation that still has a Monarchy and a House of Lords – but in Republican France it is surely the height of hypocrisy.

Far-right love the monarchy

The truth is that France’s far-right remains as obsessed with posh names, including hereditary titles, as many others.

Go to any rally addressed by Marine Le Pen, the leader of the RN, or the even more extreme Eric Zemmour’s Reconquest party, and you will see monarchical flags everywhere.

They evoke an Ancient Régime France full of aristocrats with impossibly long names linked by the ubiquitous de particle, for “of”.

Disputed ‘de’ of d’Estaing

Valérie Giscard d’Estaing, France’s late conservative president, was the most famous example of an alleged parvenu with a contrived name.

He even bought a 15th-century château in Estaing, in the south of the country, in an attempt to seal his claim to being a blue-blooded nobleman.

Critics, meanwhile, said he was no more than a lowly peasant whose father bought the family ‘de’ in the early 1920s.

Whatever the truth of the matter, VGE – as he was also known – was a colossal snob who loved to be considered more important than his fellow citizens.

France may be the land of equality and fraternity but, as the Taché de la Pagerie case shows, such a conceited legacy remains as strong as ever.

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