For a long time, parents in France could only give their children Christian names like Marie and Jean-Paul.
In 1993, less restrictive baby-naming laws gave parents in France the freedom to choose almost any name they wanted for their child. They can now opt for modern, creative, and foreign names, such as Muhammad and Kevin, but there are still some limits.
Here are 31 illegal names banned in France by French authorities.
From the unusual to the controversial, these banned names offer a glimpse into the delicate balance between individual freedom and the collective responsibility of naming.
You might be interested in reading: 400+ Bilingual French Boy names and girl names that sound good in English and French
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Romeo and Juliet, Act II, ii, 1-2
Names Banned in France
There is no official list of names banned in France that parents can refer to, like Portugal, which has an 82-page list of nearly 4,000 prohibited names.
Instead, Parents who want to choose a more creative name have to roll the dice and hope the authorities don’t step in and force them to choose a more traditional name.
Cases like this are rare, and as long as the name parents choose isn’t offensive, weird or contrary to the child’s best interest, the French authorities will usually approve the parents chosen baby name.
But it’s not a perfect system.
Baby names are sometimes randomly refused by the Civil registrar in charge of registering births at the city town hall. This is why some names are approved in certain regions of France but denied in others.
Parents can always fight the courts, but they don’t always succeed.
Here is a list of names banned in France after parents tried giving their children unconventional baby names.
The most famous baby name banned to date is Nutella.
In 2015, a couple from Valenciennes, France, named their newborn baby girl “Nutella” after the popular chocolate hazelnut spread.
A judge denied their request, stating it was not in the child’s best interest because other children might mock her.
The disappointed French parents were told they could call their baby girl Ella instead (a diminutive nickname form of Nutella.)
2) Fraise (strawberry)
In 2015, the same year that the baby name Nutella was banned in France, another couple, also from Valenciennes, had to change their baby’s name, too. The couple named their daughter Fraise (French for strawberry.)
Unfortunately, l’Etat Civil didn’t think it was such a sweet name, stating that the child might get mocked with certain phrases such as “Ramène ta fraise,” literally “bring your strawberry.” This French expression means to brag or intrude into other conversations.
Luckily, the parents were prepared and had a backup name, “Fraisine.” The couple knew this rare French name would get approved because it dates back to 19th century France.
In 2010, a French couple gave birth to a baby boy and named him MJ (all caps) in honour of Michael Jackson, who died the previous year.
Six months later, the couple received a letter from “l’état civil” in charge of enforcing baby name rules. The letter stated that they had to change their son’s name to a more acceptable name. A name that would not be ridiculed. Also, Initials as first names are not permitted in France.
After duking it out in court for a year, the couple lost and were forced to rename their son Jean.
MJ’s father encourages everyone to visit MJ’s Facebook pageand share and like it to fight what he calls prejudice against the name he chose for his son, which he thinks is perfectly acceptable, unlike other names that have been banned in France.
4) Titeuf /Tee-Tuff/
In 2009, a couple tried to name their son “Tituef.”
Titeuf is the name of a famous Swiss French-language comic book and cartoon series of the same name.
The couple ended up naming their son Grégory Léo.
5) Mini Cooper
In 2015, a couple in Perpignan wanted to call their child Mini-Cooper, like the car. They thought it was cute, but the courts didn’t think it was cute at all. Denied!
In 2015, a couple from Perpignan tried to name their son “Prince-William” but were refused.
7) Liam (for a girl)
The French state blocked a family from naming their baby girl born in 2017 “Liam.”
Plenty of French children carry the Irish name Liam in France. The problem was that this was a girl.
The courts stated that it would cause their daughter gender confusion issues since Liam is a boy’s name.
8) Ambre (for a boy )
In January 2018, in Morbihan (Brittany), a gay couple named their son Ambre. AMBRE is Pronounced /Om-bruh/.
The two women told the courts the name was gender-neutral, but the registrar ruled otherwise.
The court claimed the female name would lead to gender confusion for the boy. The couple wonders if they weren’t victims of homophobia.
Blandine and Lionel Défontaine, residents of Busigny in Northern France, wanted to call their son Daemon.
The mother loved the Vampire Diaries series and wanted to name her son after the character “Damon” with a slight spelling variation.
The courts wouldn’t allow the name because “Daemon” is Latin for “Demon.”
10) Griezmann Mbappe
A French couple was banned from naming their son in honour of two French footballers who played on the France national team for the FIFA World Cup: Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe.
The couple took the last names of each player and named their child “Griezmann Mbappe.” Denied.
In 1996, the courts denied a mother from naming her daughter “Folavril.” If you look closely, you’ll see that this name is composed of the French words “Fol” and “Avril,” which together mean “crazy April.” The little girl’s mother renamed her Zoé.
12) Marie -Automne
In France, it’s quite normal to give children hyphenated names such as Marie-Laure, Marie-Augustine, and Marie-Anaïs. In 1975, a couple in Lille thought giving their daughter the compound name Marie-Automne would be lovely.
In 1980, a couple tried to name their daughter Mariecke, the Flemish variant of Marie. Flemish has been spoken since the 8th century in the part of Flanders ceded to France at the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees, which became known as French Flanders.
Denied. The court forced the mother to rename her daughter Mikelaig
14) FLEUR DE MARIE
Fleur de Marie (French for “flower of Marie”) is the name of the heroine in a novel by Eugène Sue, titled “Mysteries of Paris” (French:Les mystères de Paris). The story was published as a series from 1842 to 1843 and made into a film of the same name in 1843.
In 1983, a couple wanted to pay homage to the main character and name their daughter “Fleur De Marie,” but the courts stepped in and said the name was too original and excessively fanciful. Maybe they should have just gone with “Fleur” (French for flower), which first appeared as a first name in France in 1974.
In March 2015, the Besançon court would not allow a couple to name their daughter Princess-Rebecca. The girl’s parents, originally from Togo, named their daughter after her grandfather, who was called Prince and Rebecca, a Christian biblical reference.
The courts claimed the name was too whimsical sounding. In particular, the girl might get teased due to certain French colloquial expressions.
“Faire sa princesse” (literally “To make his/her princess”). This French expression means to put on airs of superiority (like a princess).
“Louis Quatorze” is King Louis XIV’s name with the roman numerals spelled out in letters. In 1907, a couple was denied the right to name their son after this famous French king.
17) Pierre Tombal
Parents in the French-speaking part of Belgium decided to name their son Pierre. No big deal except for the fact that their last name is “Tombal.”
Pierre Tombal in French is pronounced the same as “Pierre tomabale,” which means headstone, tombstone, or gravestone.
The request was denied, stating that it was too morbid sounding.
18) Children cannot use the last name of a parent as their first name
Using the official French government’s example, If a child has the last name of one parent (usually the father), that child’s first name cannot be the last name of the other parent.
For example, Mr. Dupont and Mrs. Martin cannot name their child Martin Dupont. They would have to choose a different first name, such as Jean Dupont or Michel Dupont. (source)
Twins whose names were banned in France
19 and 20) Babord and Tribord (Port and Starboard)
Parents From Brittany in Northern France must love sailing because they tried to name their twin babies Babord and Tribord, which means Port and Starboard.
The courts said the name was fanciful and ridiculous in nature and would cause the children a lot of difficulties and embarrassment in the future.
21) and 22) Patriste et Joyeux
In Montpellier, where I happen to live, two parents tried to name their newborn baby boys something that would guide their personality: Joyeux and Patriste. Joyeux means happy, and Patriste is a person whose behaviour or attitude is modelled by their father.
The Montpellier Court of Appeal decided the names were ridiculous, and the two toddlers were renamed Roger and Raymond.
Names once banned in France but are legal now
In 1984, parents who dreamed of living the American dream wanted to name their children after the famous city of Manhattan. The civil court denied the request because it was the name of a place.
According to INSEE, the name Manhattan was given to 15 children between 1993 and 2009.
In 1984, the tribunal in Val d’Oise contested the first name “Vanille” (French for Vanilla).
Since 1985, the name Vanille has been given to over 1000 children;
In 1919, the Paris tribunal contested the first name, Sanita, a name of Spanish origin that means “little girl in good health.”
Since 1985, over 1,000 children have been given the name Sanita in France.
In 1975, Parents from Lille were denied the right to call their son”Gentil” (French for “kind”) despite the name being given to over 240 children from 1900 to 1980.
In 1988, two parents in northern France named their son Ravi, a Hindu name that means “the sun,” one of the sacred stars of Hinduism. The French authorities blocked the name, claiming it was too whimsical and ridiculous because of its various meanings in the French language.
“Ravi,” which means delighted, overjoyed, or very happy, is also the past participle of the French verb “Ravir” (to delight).
The courts feared the child’s name might encourage other children to tease and taunt him, giving specific examples “Ravi-oli” (like the pasta.) But Ravioli also sounds exactly like “Ravi-au-lit” (delight in bed.)
Interestingly, 56 children were given the name Ravi between 1968 and 2013, according to INSEE, which goes to show you that banned names in France are not consistent.
Names once legal but are now banned in France
Jihad hasn’t always had a pejorative connotation or been associated with terrorism or the ” “holy war.”
In 2018, a couple in Dijon decided to call their newborn Jihad. When the town hall received the birth records, they immediately forwarded the information to the higher-ups to force the parents to rename their son. The court stated that the name should be replaced with “Jahid.”
According to l’Insee, between 1976 and 2015, nearly 700 children born in France were given the name Jihad without the state stepping in.
29) Mohamed Merah
In 2016, Mr. and Mrs. Merah named their little boy Mohamed, which is one of the most popular foreign baby names in France. In Paris, Mohamed is usually in the top ten most popular names for newborn boys, while it’s usually number one in Marseille.
The problem was that this little boy’s name, Mohamed Nizar Merah, was almost identical toMohamed Merah, the terrorist.
Mohammed Merah (the terrorist) was a 23-year-old French citizen of Algerian origins who admitted to killing seven people, including three children, in several shootings in Toulouse in 2012 in the name of radical Islam.
His name gathered a lot of notoriety around France, and the court decided that it would not be in the best interest of the boy to carry the name of a well-known terrorist. You can read more about Mohamed Merah here.
Names that French officials tried to ban unsuccessfully
Mégane, the French version of the name “Megan,” is a well-known girl’s name in France. It’s one of many foreign names that became popular in France in the 1980s and 1990s.
Megan is a girl’s name of Welsh origin meaning “pearl”. The name Megan evolved from Meg, which was a nickname for Margaret from the Greek word margarites, “pearl.”
So why was a French couple denied the right to give their daughter the surname Mégane in 2000 when thousands of other little girls carried the same name?
Mégane just so happens to be the name of a popular car model manufactured by the Renault /Ruh-No/ car company. Unfortunately, the couple’s last name was also Renault.
Local officials felt it would be detrimental to the little girl to have a first and last name that matched one of France’s most popular cars. It would be like calling your son or daughter Aston if your last name was Martin (Aston Marton.)
The story has a happy ending because the parents fought the local officials and won. They are the proud parents of Mégane Renault.
In May 2017, a couple from Quimper, a city in Brittany’s most traditional region, named their newborn son Fañch after his paternal grandfather.
To their surprise, the courts stepped in and told them that they could not spell their son’s name Fañch with the tilde (~) on his official birth certificate.
The tilde is a diacritical mark used in the Portuguese, Spanish and Breton alphabets.The tilde does not exist in the French alphabet. And that’s the problem! The lower court ruled that the tilde symbol was not recognized in the French language and would cause confusion.
Fañch is the Breton form of Francois.
Another happy ending here. The Rennes Court of Appeal stepped in and overturned the lower court’s original decision, and little could legally keep his name with the tilde. I guess it doesn’t hurt that France’s junior interior minister, Laurent Nuñez, also has a tilde in his surname.
A final word about first names in France:
According to a 2018 French census, over 33,000 different first names are used in France. Part of the reason for so many different names in France is due to the immigration of people from other countries but also due to less restrictive baby-naming laws.
And one last thing. If you’re not a French citizen but live in France and have a child, you don’t have to abide by these French baby name laws.
You might be interested in reading: 21 Strange, Weird And Funny French Laws In France That Should Change.