In January, there's a round-up for the year in the bulletin of our local commune, the catchily named Plémy Informations (since that is a countable noun in French, as is advice), where you get what my mother used to call the hatches-matches-and-dispatches. The births this year outnumber the deaths by 19 to 16, which doubtless is considered a minor triumph on behalf of the Republic by the citizens of Plémy , though there were only three marriages. I always take a quick glance at the naissances column (rather simperingly subtitled bienvenue - welcome, while the deaths are even more cloyingly watermarked with 'ils nous ont quittés - they have left us') every month, to see what the folk of the neighbourhood of child-bearing age are naming their offspring. Gone are the days when you were obliged to name your child from a register of accepted names, presumably so that its fête might be celebrated on the statutory day as laid down by the almanach du facteur and other such worthy documents. Now, though I have heard that mayors of communes have the right to turn down a name which they consider in some way inappropriate, it pretty much seems to be carte blanche for trendy names. Here's this year's haul:
Yuna (two of these, our neighbours' grand-daughter, who must by now be well into her twenties, was Yuna, but her mum was a bit of a hippy trailblazer)
Erell (I assumed at first this was a boy and equated it with 'Errol'; now I know it's a girl it sounds nicer)
Chloé (not as ubiquitous here as in the UK but popular)
Gwendoline ('Gwen' names have been popular hereabouts for a while I think)
Océane (I think this is quite trendy but has been around a few years; our friends' daughter, who must be 12 now, was tormented through primary school by an Océane)
Anaïs (quite a classic now, I think, apparently it's southern, Provencale/Catalan. I like it because it's the name of a dear young friend, and it sounds sunshiny)
Margaux (another well-established variant of Margot, thence from Marguerite. Perhaps she had her head wetted with something classy...)
Clara (my favourite I think, lovely and old fashioned, to my ears, and redolent of Schumann and Rilke)
Melvin (we winced at first but thinking of it pronounced in French it sounds better)
Maël (this is our neighbours' baby. I was confused at first because I thought it was Maëlle which I'd only heard as a girl's name)
Arthur (a cartoon character but popular for a while here as in English now I think, as the legends undergo a resurgence of interest. Again, nice pronounced French style)
It's one of those odd things about being still very largely an outsider, the nuances of fashion, social standing, education and special interest with regard to what people call their kids are mostly lost on me, despite my perusing of the lists over the years. A large number of the names (Yuna, Erell, Gwendoline, Maël, Kyliann, Ethan and Nolann) are considered to be 'celtique', which seems an odd cultural construct neither Breton nor Irish not Scottish nor Welsh but an amalgam of all those (notwithstanding the very ancient linguistic divisions that actually exist between them), and as such much in vogue, though I've noticed that the Celtic style names of the first wave, such as Erwann, Tanguy, Gildas, Kevin ( the first three more authentically Breton, the last a bit later I think, and now become a cause of middle-class wincing), seem to have fallen away rather in favour of more novel and (perhaps) hybrid ones. Old-fashioned very classic French names seem rare as hen's teeth; I seem to remember reading when we first came here that Marie and Pierre were still among the most popular but I can't imagine that's now the case.
Quite a different story with those who have quit.
Jean x 2
Pierre x 2
Francis (this apparent Anglicisation seems to have been the more popular form for at least fifty years; François is very unusual)
Jack (again sounds Anglicised but is quite frequent, eg Jack Lang)
Claude (could be a woman but probably not)
I'm afraid that most of these sound really rather better than the Celtic soul brothers and sisters, but probably only to me and outsiders like me. When Charmless next door called his wee boy Marcel, he got nods and smiles of approval from the elders of the village but the equivalent of ''Oh no the poor little chap!'' from anyone any younger. I must say it doesn't sound too good when screeched in a Thai accent by his mother, but then I don't know what would. 'Nolann' would probably sound even worse.
Anyway, this was meant to be a quick pot-boiler of a post, but owing to having to use the character map a lot has taken me rather longer than expected. I hope I haven't trodden on anyone's toes or given any offence! As I say, I miss the nuances, so any observations or corrections are welcome.
The Wild Places by Robert MacFarlane
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