Choosing a Baby Name in France According to French Customs

Trying to find the perfect baby name for our little French American girl has been quite a challenge. What is current in one country does not seem to be current in the other.

Since she will be growing up in France, we placed a higher priority on giving her a name that will help her fit in here. Luckily, many French baby names are trendy in the USA – just agreeing on one is the problem!

French mothers throughout history have had strict requirements for naming their babies. They are still not able to have complete freedom of choosing a baby name in France. In the 18th century, children could only be named after saints in the Roman Catholic calendar, such as Jacques, Jean, Michel, Pierre, Jean-Baptiste, Marie, Jeanne, Marguerite, Françoise and Élisabeth. In some cases they could be named after famous historical French men or women.

The government started allowing parents to name their children after mythological, regional or foreign names in 1966.  Then in 1993, parents were finally able to name their children freely as they wished – unless the name was considered to be detrimental to the child’s future. The birth registrar has the power to refuse names that he thinks will be harmful to the child. In the event of rejection, parents have to go to local court in order to plead their case.

First Names…

First names consist of either one or two names. The first name gives indication of the gender, while the second can be of the opposite sex. For example, a boy’s name can be Jean-Marie or a girl’s name Marie-George.

Short names are gaining in popularity. We are seeing less children named Alexandre or Nathalie, and more names like Lucas or Clara. Girls are increasingly given names that end with an “a,” and boy with an “eo.” For example, girls names like Emma, Léa and Lina; and boys names like Léo, Théo and Mathéo.

American names are no longer popular, as they were overused in the 1990s. In fact, some American names are considered to indicate the child comes from a lower class family. There goes some of my top choice baby names! Italian, Greek, Spanish and Irish names are becoming increasingly common. This includes names like Carla, Yanis, Lola and Kylian.

There is some debate on whether using a foreign first name could hurt the child’s chances for finding higher positions, or receiving higher pay when entering the workforce. I am not saying to bypass foreign names, just that it may be wise to reconsider any name that it too unique in France.

Trendy Girls Names: Emma, Chloé, Clara, Sara, Léa, Inès, Jade, Manon, Maëlys, Lola, Lina, Camille, Lilou, Lucie, Louise, Maud, Romane and Inaîs.

Trendy Boys Names : Lucas, Maël, Mathis, Mathéo, Enzo, Nathan, Noah, Raphaël, Louis, Kylian, Théo, Yanis, Gabriel, Evan, Maxime, Clément and Arthur.

Middle Names…

It is common in the USA to have a middle name, whereas in France there can be one or more “middle” name. Traditionally the middle names are those of the child’s godparents. Now they usually either honor family members, or are names the parents could not decide between when choosing the first name.

Middle names do not have to be sex specific. For instance, it is common for men to have middle names, such as Anne and Mairie – especially if keeping with the tradition of using the names of the godparents as middle names.

The middle names are only used for official documents, otherwise they are kept private. It is common to use middle names in the USA, or to use its first initial. Emma Mairie Depardieu would be simply Emma Depardieu in France.

Last Names…

Only since 2005 have parents been able to choose which last name the child will carry. The child always took the last name of the father, except if father was unknown or unwilling to recognize the child. In those cases, the child was given the mother’s last name.

Now children can be given mother’s last name or a hyphenated combination of both last names. If the parents cannot agree on the last name, the father’s name will be used.

Our Princess’s French Baby Name…

We are about 90 percent sure on what we are going to name her, but still searching for additional choices. We would like to have about 2 to 3 names selected by the time she is born, then opt for the name that fits her the best. After some debate, we decided that we are going to keep the first name a secret until she enters this world.

While I love how in the USA a middle name is used to really add to the first name, such as with my niece Sophia Margaret, I do like the idea of two middle names to honor two people in our family. We decided that they will be the first names of our mothers. The order will be determined after we choose her first name so that it sounds as smooth as possible. Her middle names will be Carolyn and Genevieve. Two strong women for her to look up to.

Since I decided to take my husband’s last name when we were married, her last name will simply be my husband’s as well. At least we had one easy decision there!

Image Credit: _Nezemnaya_ on

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  1. marie eve says:


    What do you name her at the end?
    We have three French-American children and gave them a french and an american name. but we live in the states and their name is french: delmas.
    the fourth is on the way and this time we have no ideas how to name her…
    my husband’s dad is french but they have always been living in the usa and his mom is from the usa..i have been living there since the birth of our oldest..still diffucult to be so far away, and my english is still not daughter keeps correcting me…
    we are on holidays in france right now and this is me who is correcting her…and i really appreciate that…

    • We ended up naming her Juliana. My husband really wanted Chloé until the moment we saw her. Naming her was so hard to do… but at least Juliana is not so unique that people in both countries are unable to remember it. The only thing is that whenever we tell people her name in France, they all think she is part Italian!

  2. marie eve says:

    Ooops, i gave you my old email adress which is not working anymore, so here you are the new if you want to answer…

    • French Mamma says:

      Hi! I am now 34 weeks pregnant… so still waiting on her to arrive. 🙂

      Our top choices are Chloé, Mélanie and Julia. My mother-in-law just brought me over a LARGE book of baby names called L’Âme des Prénoms by Jacques et Chantal Baryosher. I hope to get some more ideas in there.

      It is difficult to find names that can fit both cultures – as you do not want everyone to constantly mispronounce, misspell or make fun of it. Since you are in the USA, it is a bit easier since French names are more well received. You can go to the government’s Social Security website (, scroll down and select “view the top 100 names” and see if there are any that have a French origin – like “Sophie”. I found that this was a good tool to see what is popular. Good Luck! When is 4th baby due?

      That is too funny about your daughter correcting you! I have a feeling that will be me later on. My French is not very good, so she will probably be correcting me all the time. But I will look forward to taking her to the USA and correcting her English!

  3. marie eve says:

    I am 26 weeks pregnant right now, and we are not talking about the names at all. In fact I am telling my husband what I like and he only says “no”, and keeps on saying that we have all the time in the world…
    It was the same with the first three and at the end he began feeling stressed and make me feel stressed too…
    As far as your choices are concerned I really like Chloe and Julia. Melanie was too popular among my generation…the 80’s, and I am really interested in the origin of the names etc, and pay attention to that naming my kids, and Melanie means dark and for me it’s too negative..but to each its own 🙂
    I love the name Sophie but it is my best friend’s name. The first three have an american and a french name so we want to carry on this tradition, so finding two names is even more complicated.
    Yeah my daughter is too funny, she corrects me and says “mom, I have already corrected this mistake, come on”…but since we are here in france i am telling her “ma chérie, je t’ai déjà corrigée ça, fais un petit effort..” and she does not like it at all LOL
    Take care of you, it’s too hot in France right now!

  4. Brazilgir1 says:

    my son was born 3 weeks early (according to French calculations) and we didn’t decide on a boy’s name until I was in labor. We had ideas but nothing concrete. We chose “Eitan Joseph” 🙂 You are lucky you got to go to all your course-d’accouchment. The hospital stay was wonderful though. 🙂 The nurses didn’t speak any English, but they were very kind and taught me how to nurse my baby well. They let the baby stay in the room with me at night. One very funny thing (though I was upset at the time) that happened was I missed the first bath of my baby because I was laying in the hospital bed and a very large auxiliary nurse came in and took him in her arms, saying something very quickly in French. After that, she blocked the entire view of the bath cause she was so large! LOL. My husband’s alarm didn’t go off (he wasn’t allowed to sleep overnight in the hospital) so he missed the bath too. I comforted him by saying I had missed it too. One advice I can give about presents from people after the birth, keep up with the thank you notes because I am overwhelmed now. I don’t remember who gave what, etc… Maybe it is something you can do while you nurse the baby… just an idea.

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