Thursday, February 03, 2011

Hatches and dispatches,

 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)
Cindy (mmm...)
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)
Nolann .

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.


Lesley said...

Clara is my favourite too.

the polish chick said...

i second the clara, along with its polish version: klara.

melina (minus the accent) is quite inappropriate in polish since it's the name of a drunks' den, the sort of place littered with empty vodka bottles and redolent of old urine and vomit. i would most emphatically not name a child after that.

poland has also loosened its naming standards, previously overseen by the church. the country is now being overrun by sad phonetic approximations of once popular american names like brian (written: brajen - i know, i know, it hurts!) and colin (kolin).

as little regard as i have for the church, i do miss the days when a child's name was something recognizable and not "tawnyea", sometimes spelled with a silent q, all for the sake of originality.

20th Century Woman said...

It was a tough year for men, I think.

My great grandmother's name was Clara. Our family is full of Clares.

I don't go for these new creations, but then, I'm hopelessly behind the times. And I have a darling little granddaughter who is named Jameson. I'm getting used to it, slowly.

Fire Bird said...

fascinating stuff...

Unknown said...

Although I can overcome it, the problem I have with names is association. Some names which may sound perfectly good can become unacceptable because they belonged or belong to someone horrid that you know or knew. I'm glad to say that there are very few names which fall into that category as far as I am concerned. None of those listed except perhaps Pierre - I used to know a rather insusufferable Pierre - have bad associations for me; and I begin as a simple reflex to build them into characters. Océane has distinct possibilities. A difficult name to live up to.

Roderick Robinson said...

Oh joy! The French village magazine - often our only justification for having a postbox. Were we sharing a village and a residence it seems we wouldn't be competing for the same pages; at Drefféac I was still a working journalist, still driven by the old imperative Cherchez l'argent, and always turned first to the Vie économique pages. For a village of some thousand souls Drefféac disbursed some quite large sums and I was fascinated to see where it all went. Not of any great interest to most blog readers, I fear, whereas your names analysis is a sociological commentary that says much about France.

I was astonished to find that Drefféac now has a website. It lacks the soul of the magazine, suggesting that the French lose some of their Frenchness when squeezed through the Internet toothpaste tube. But not entirely; still a love of those five-dollar words and concepts that drew me to France in the first place. The hairdresser where I once had my hair cut is now called Esthétique Diffusion and under Outils Pratiques among such dull but necessary headings as Plan du site and Météo locale I spot a collector's item: Ephéméride Haven't clicked on it; just, as the Americans say, "let it lie".

Kelly said...

The outsiders perspective is my realm on this topic as well. I am more concerned about the ratio that leads to further over population of our heavily burdened planet as it is. Be glad I have chosen to skip the replicating of the DNA due to my choice of names would be a variation of One, Two, etc. I love reading your observations. Soon I will get back to mine, 2011 has been an roller coaster thus far.

Jean said...

I love this.

Oh dear, though, I have a deep romantic attachment to traditional French names, so I am not happy to learn that so many young people are avoiding them for their kids. Oh well, I'm just an aging, sentimental British Francophile. I do rather like Oceane.

Lucy, I'll be hosting the next Language, Place blog carnival and would love it if you felt like writing something for it. Or if not, maybe we could use this post, or to any other from your archives that you feel is approprite? You'll note that there's a monthly special theme, but that quite unrelated posts in the overall area of language and place are equally welcome. For all details, see: Submissions are open 5 - 15 Feb.

Jean said...

No, that's not right, submissions are open until at least 20 Feb - I should really refrain from all online commenting on spaced-out Friday evening at end of heavy week.

The Crow said...

I was quietly pleased to find my middle name in the list of girls' names: Chloe.

Nice article, Lucy. I enjoy these glimpses into other cultures I find on the 'net, especially yours.

Dick said...

Interesting. Family friends of my parents in Paris included a Victoire and I can remember her telling me that it was a very common name in the year of her birth (1918) and for a few years after. And when my parents lived in the Var, their elderly next-door-neighbour's name was Anaïs and she was Varoise by birth.

marly youmans said...


I wrote you elsewhere, then thought you might not come back--so I popped by to thank you for pre-ordering my new book! I am very tickled, as you are a splendid reader and writer yourself.

But of course I immediately read the current post, which I found very interesting. My eldest son has the middle name "Francis." I wonder if there any Rilke-lovers there with Clara. And Marguerite Yourcenar or Anais Nin, perhaps? I know a Clara and a Nolan in our little village. (And I do believe that is the first Nolan I have ever met. He must be 11 or 12 now...)

marly youmans said...

p. s. Wonder if "Gwen" names are more popular because of the filming of the "Merlin" series in France?

Cathy said...

I have a niece Clara in Germany, and it's one of my favorite names too.

My mother and father insisted on giving their children classic names, like Michael and Catherine. One could only wish that the mother of the little girl down the street, Latrina, had done the same.

Sherry O'Keefe said...

finding you by way of the langauge carnival- what a nice discovery, your blog.

in my family, the name "remy" has been passed down through generations. nice to find it here.

Lucy said...

Thanks Marly, Cathy and Sherry.

'Latrina'? You're kidding! That has been cracking me up for days...