Bonjour! From the Alps to the Riviera, France is a country rich in beauty and culture. The French language is no different and it’s filled with elegance and romance. Perhaps that’s why French children always seem to have names with character. France has a storied history that has seen influence from neighbors in Europe as well as beyond. The Catholic influence on the country is undeniable with many of its most common names belonging to saints before they are given to children. French is spoken around the world incorporating new cultures and traditions and names into it. We visited our local bistro, put on a beret, and ordered red wine and a baguette. This helped fuel our list of favorite French-inspired names that we think you’ll adore.
Cléo from 5 to 7 premiered in 1967. The film follows a pop singer around Paris as she waits for the results of a biopsy. The film by Agnès Varda was not met with the same acclaim that other French New Wave films received. However, it’s a classic and we totally fell in love with the name Cleo because of it. The name Cleo is short for Cleopatra or Cleophus and means “fame,” “pride,” or “glory.”
The French-sounding name Frederic looks even more French when you add the accent diacritics so that it looks like Frédéric. The name Frederic actually comes from Old German and means “peaceful ruler.”
While she might one of Britain’s best exports, singer Adele has a very popular French name. The name means “noble” and is sometimes spelled Adèle. The name Adele is very old and was popular among the ruling class before the French Revolution. There have been a number of countesses and other nobles with the name. The name lost popularity beginning in the early 20th century but has since made a huge comeback.
Claude is a popular given name for boys in France. The name comes from Latin, Claudius and means “limping.” French impressionist painter, Claude Monet is a famous example. It’s less common for girls to receive the name Claude but not unheard of. For instance, Claude of France was wife and queen consort to King Francis I of France.
How the name Genevieve entered the French lexicon is a bit contested. Some scholars argue that the name is of Celtic origin while others agree that it comes from the Germanic name Kenowefa which means “woman of the race.” While the name’s meaning doesn’t seem as charming as it sounds, Saint Genevieve is the patron saint of Paris. She apparently aided in the defeat of Atilla the Hun and saved the entire city.
We’re all familiar with the surname Hugo and a famous example Victor Hugo who wrote Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The name is also a favored given name for little boys in France and around the world. In French, the “H” is not pronounced and it sounds like “you-go”! The name means “mind.”
The names Emelie, Emme, and Emanuelle might sound more French to you, but Emmy is the most popular form of the name in France. It was the 86th most popular name for girls in 2010 and it’s easy to understand why. It’s a sweet and casual name that’s often a nickname for many Em- names. The name means “universal” or “work.”
The French form of the English John, the name comes from Old French Jehan which ultimately came from the Hebrew name Yochanan. The name means “the Lord is gracious.” You’ll often see a hyphenated compound name with Jean such as Jean-Luc or Jean-Paul.
Margot originally was a shortened form of Marguerite before people realized Margot is the better name. The name Margot means “pearl.” La Reine Margot or Margaret of Valois was the queen of France and Navarre in the 16th Century who weathered many political scandals. Although the majority of the slanders she was accused of were totally manufactured, to this day people associate her with adultery and nymphomania. At the time, she was one of the most successful and powerful women in the world.
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The name Raphael comes from Hebrew and means “God heals.” Although, the name can be traced back to 1350 BCE and was used by the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. The name was first popularized in Europe in France and remains popular there today.
Rene is a commonly given name for both boys and girls. Sometimes for girls, the name is spelled with an extra “E” and looks like Renee. Sometimes there’s an accent for both and look like René. The name is purely French and comes from the French word for “reborn.” A famous example is French philosopher René Descartes.
Luc is the French form of the name Luke and it means “light.” For animal lovers, you’ll remember the documentary March of the Penguins. The film was directed by Luc Jacquet and released to acclaim in 2005. Another popular director, Luc Besson, does the name proud.
Sandrine is an extremely popular name for girls in France. It’s essentially the French version of Sandra. It comes from the male name Alexander and means “protector of men.”
The names Théo and Theo were traditionally shortened forms of longer names like Theodore or Theobald. Now, the name Théo is favored as a given name. In Greek, the name means “God.” In German, the name means “folk.” Legendary French singer Édith Piaf was married, for a time, to Theo Sarapo a fellow singer and actor.
Isabella of Angoulême was the granddaughter of King Louis VI of France and brought her lovable name to England when she married King John. Isabella and its similar French from Isabelle became very popular across Europe. The name is a form of Elizabeth and originates from the Hebrew name Elisheba and means “God of plenty.”
Many religious traditions include mention of the archangel Gabriel and it is a popular baby name around the world. The name means “God is my strength.” Gabriel Fauré was an esteemed French composer who bridged Romanticism and Modernism.
You’re probably familiar with the children’s book series Madeline about young girls attending a boarding school in Paris. Madeline is more of English spelling, however, and the French tend to spell it, Madeleine. The name means “high tower” or “woman from Magdala” which is where Mary of Magdeline was said to be from.
Armand is the French form of the name Herman and means “soldier.” There have been many notable Armands throughout history including saints, French nobles, and artists. French industrialist Armand Peugeot famously made bicycles and later automobiles, becoming a pioneer of the industry.
Bernadette is a French girl’s name that means “brave as a bear.” It’s the female form of Bernard and although the name has fallen out of fashion in the US, it’s very popular in France. We would love to grab a baguette with a Bernadette.
Pascal is the French form of the Italian name Pascuale and means “born on Easter.” Popes and saints have had the pleasure of the name. We will not bore you with Pascal’s law, but it’s a thing.
Since the Middle Ages, children born on or around Christmas are given the name Noel because that’s what the name means. It’s given to both girls and boys. In France, Père Noël translates to “father Christmas” and is the French version of Santa Claus. Noel is a name that evokes pure joy.
The French name Marc comes from the Latin, Marcus. The name comes from the Roman god of war, Mars. Like Luc, Marc is a classic French name for boys that is a short and sweet single-syllable name.
Bijou is the French form of the name Jewel and means “precious stone.” The name sounds equally as precious and is pronounced, “bee-zhoo.” Although the name is slipping in popularity for girls, it’s become a very common name for dogs in France. Let’s rescue this name from the doghouse and give it back to the humans!
The name Gaston comes from Old French and means “stranger” or “host.” You’re probably familiar with the character of Gaston in the French fairytale La Belle et la Bête and the subsequent films. There have been a number of French adaptations, and here in the US, we know all about Beauty and the Beast. Gaston is one of the most popular names for little boys in France.
In the Middle Ages, Colette was the common female form of Nicolas. Colette means “victorious.” French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette went simply by the name Colette and was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. She’s best known for her novella Gigi that was published the same year.
The French don’t like the sound of Peter and instead say, “Pierre.” The name Pierre is a very French-sounding one that means “rock.” French fashion designer Pierre Cardin was born in Italy but naturalized French to escape fascism in 1929. He’s considered a touchstone of contemporary French culture.
Simone is a French name for a girl that means “hearkening.” Speaking of Italy, Italian neighbors of France commonly name their boys Simone. However, in France, more girls have the name than boys. And in French-Canada the name is given to girls but spelled, Simonne. It’s a beautiful name that would be perfectly suited for your little girl.
In Italy it’s Guido but in France it’s Guy. The name means “guide” or “leader.” There have been hundreds of notable Guys and we think parents like the simplicity of this name. French writer, Guy de Maupassant is famed for his mastery of the short story.
Violet or the alternative spelling, Violette, both share the name with a purple flower. The name is beautiful and while its popularity dipped in the UK and US in the 20th Century, it remained popular in France.
The very French name Louis means “famed warrior” and famously belonged to one of France’s most extravagant kings, King Louis XIV. More than any other name, Louis is associated with French royalty and aristocracy. Why? There have been thousands of kings, emperors, dukes, grand-dukes, princes, and every other kind of titled position that have shared the name.
French names have a certain Je ne sais quoi about them. For many of us, these names sound romantic or literary and that makes them attractive names for children. If you’re interested in these names but think they sound too Frenchified, there are always English versions and spellings to choose from. For instance, Louis (loo-ee) becomes Lewis. And a name like Margot (mar-go) becomes Margaret. You can be inspired but not fully committed. We hope these names bring you joie.