Popular French names you just couldn’t call a British child

Choosing a name for your baby is a tough task, made trickier when you have to take two cultures into account. Your favourite name in one language might be a terrible choice in another, landing your child with a lifetime of sniggers, or at the very least having to spell their name at every occasion. (Good luck with that Starbucks order.)

The good news is that there’s enough crossover among current popular French and English for prospective parents to be able to make a choice that crosses the channel as efficiently as the Eurostar. Charlotte, Mia and Chloé for girls, or Thomas, Ethan and Noah for boys are in the top 50 baby names of both countries. But on those same lists there are many names that would mean misery for your wee one were you to be relocated back to Britain.

Before we look at some of the most egregious examples, let’s look at why certain French names don’t travel as well as French wine. There are five basic reasons:

1. Gender ambiguity – Some French male names sound similar to English female names. Think Nicolas (French, male) and Nicola (English, female) or Laurent (French, male) and Lauren (English, female). Particularly with boys, parents want names that asserts its owner’s gender to avoiding playground teasing, and that’s why certain French male names are definitely out.

2. Unpronounceable – Beautiful-sounding French names can be mangled on an English tongue. No one wants to go through life having to demonstrate how their name should be said correctly.

3. Old fashioned – Much as we might like to think we’re above it, fashion holds great sway over the names we select; what’s in favour in one country might well be out in another. Take the surprising example of ‘Paul’, once given to thousands of British boys, but now no longer in the British top 100. But ‘Paul’ in France? It’s the ninth most popular boy’s name.

4. Cultural associations – Famous people’s names can become ‘tainted’ with negative or positive feelings – or just be too strongly identified with that person. Can you think of the name Kylie without having the singer in mind? (Well, maybe if you’re under 18 and a fan of the Kardashians.)

5. Name has another (rude) meaning – One of the funnier aspects of languages is that a perfectly bland and blameless word in one language can turn the air blue in another. (Looking at you, “pula“) This phenomenon can be found in names, too

OK, now that we’ve established why there’s a problem, let’s take a look at some of the most popular names for boys and girls in France to identify some of the worst names you can call your Anglo-French child

 

Gabriel (boy)

Gabriel Byrne, the angel Gabriel… There just aren’t many male Gabriels in English culture. Put that together with the first part of the name sounding like “gay” and you can see this leading to taunting.

 

Sacha (boy)

With the exception of Sacha Baron Cohen, this is a girl’s name in the UK.

 

Enzo  (boy)

Personally speaking, the name Enzo always puts me in mind of the Muppets (maybe because of Elmo?). Enzo is also a kind of Ferrari. Is that what you want for your child?

 

Nino (boy)

Searching for who?

 

Valentin (boy)

I can see the Beckhams getting away with naming a child this but for most other kids it’s a bit, well, Valentine-y.

 

Côme (boy)

No comment.

 

Thibault (boy)

Pronounced “tee bo” in French, it would end up as “thigh bolt” in English.

 

Arsène (boy)

We’re used to this name in the UK because of a certain football manager but still no.

 

Fabio (boy)

“I want my son to be a stripper when he grows up.”

 

Martin (boy)

It’s 2016 and British taste dictates that your name is no longer acceptable, Mr McFly. (Yes, I know his name was Marty but I’m sure his mum called him Martin.)

 

Alexis (boy)

There is only one Alexis and that’s Alexis Carrington-Colby. End of.

 

Maëlys (girl)

A lovely name, sure, but so much confusion over spelling and pronunciation.

Doctor: *looks at patient list* “Um, is there a Miss ‘Male Eyes’ here?”

 

Fanny (girl)

It may be lower on the list than some of the others but it’s worth including because it’s such a potential horror of a name. Bad in American English, worse in British, it’s one to avoid at all costs.

 

That’s it for my list. Can you think of any other names that should be included? Or what about English names that are awful in French? Peter jumps to mind as one example…

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8 Comments


  1. Rosie Hill (@EcoGitesLenault)

    20th November 2016 at 12:45 pm

    I can’t get over the fact that Camille can be male or female in French

    Reply

    • OUT OF PLACE

      20th November 2016 at 8:52 pm

      I know! I have friends with a son called that and I was very confused at first.

      Reply

  2. Jess

    21st November 2016 at 7:56 am

    Aurélie is one of my favourite French girls’ names but try saying it with an English accent… orally.

    Reply

    • OUT OF PLACE

      22nd November 2016 at 9:09 pm

      Ouch, that’s bad. Really bad 🙂

      Reply

  3. Anne

    19th January 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Heather is the one name to come to my mind… No way it can be pronounced in French!

    Reply

    • admin

      20th January 2017 at 4:52 pm

      Oh yes, good one! It’s be pronounced something like “Eh-ta”

      Reply

  4. Juliet

    26th April 2017 at 3:39 pm

    I laughed so much at this. I wanted Heather for our first daughter but then realised it would be a disaster for her whole French life.
    So we have an Emma and a Louise. Easy-peasy in both languages.
    Love your writing style. Where are you from? You sound Scottish!
    Juliet

    Reply

    • admin

      28th April 2017 at 1:03 pm

      I am Scottish – glad to hear that it come across in my writing 🙂 Emma and Louise are good choices!

      Reply

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