Your first name might be perfectly normal, but it’s possible that it could be forbidden in France. Here’s a look at France’s curious baby-naming laws and the names that have been banned in France. Some for good reason, others not so much.
“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
Baby-name laws are not consistent.
Most countries have a baby naming law that prevents parents from legally giving their children controversial, embarrassing or offensive names like Adolph Hitler or Osama Bin Laden, both of which are forbidden in Germany and a few other countries.
But baby name laws are not consistent.
Australia, Sweden and a few other countries don’t allow names that resemble official ranks or titles such as King, Queen, Master, Duke, God, Lord or Saint.
A good thing Kim Kardashian and Kanye west live in the US because they would never have been able to name their second child Saint if they lived in Australia or Sweden.
Not only can baby names differ from country to country but also from region to region within the same country.
France’s baby name laws were very restrictive until recently.
Children born in France rarely have unusual, weird or made-up French names like “Reign” or “Rocket Zot” because the French government has the last say on what name you give your children to ensure its citizens comply with social traditions (of the period).
It’s been that way since 1803, and one of the many reasons why French names tend to be more classic or traditional than some American names where you can name your child anything from Moon Unit to Pilot Inspektor. Yes, these are real names.
1803- 1966 French baby name law: Parents could only name their children after Christian Saints
For a long time, Parents in France had to choose a baby name from a list of acceptable French first names laid out by French authorities.
Napolean Bonapart enacted this law in 1803, which was called the “11 Germinal, An XI.”
Napoleon’s baby naming law stated that parents could only use Christian names based on the saints in the Roman Catholic calendar and “names of persons known from ancient history.”
It started a long-standing tradition and this is why so many people have similar names (Jean, Marie, Paul, Josephine, etc.)
Sometimes non-Christian names slipped in under the radar but they were few and far between.
If you didn’t give your child a traditional French name approved by the French state, youre child was a non-person with no identity. You couldn’t legally vote, apply for benefits or drive a car.
A French couple fought the French state baby-naming law of 1803
Mr and Mrs le Goarnic, a French couple from Brittany fought against the French state and against the restrictive baby-naming law of 1803.
They wanted parents in France 🇫🇷 to have the right to give their children Breton (Celtic) first names and other regional language first names (not just Saints.)
The people of Brittany are a former independent kingdom that later became part of France. Brittany preserved their unique culture and Breton language which is closely related to Welsh, and they’re both of Celtic origin.
Between 1946 and 1963, Mireille and Jean-Jacques Manrot-le Goarnic had 12 children. All 12 children traditiona Breton (Celtic) names.
The French registrar’s office accepted the first six children’s names (Garlonn, Patrig, Katell, Gwenn, Yann and Morgann).
Unfortunately, the town clerk refused to register the last six children’s names, stating that they were foreign names, not French names. Their names are (Adraboran, Maïwenn, Gwendal, Diwezha, Sklerijenn and Brann).
For years, these six children were deprived of a civil status, without papers, without a legal existence and therefore without social rights or family allowances for their parents.
The couple found the law racist and brought the case before the UN and the European Court in Hague.
Eventually, the six younger children were issued special identity cards with the status of “European citizens of Breton nationality.” The case made international headlines and created a diplomatic incident.
1966: new baby name law
Thanks to Mr and Mrs le Goarnic, Napoleans’s 1803 name law was repealed, and a new law was put in place in 1966.
It ended 163 years of Catholic saint names and names of persons known in ancient history.
Parents could finally give their children regional names from all over France, not just Brittany.
Parents could also give their children diminutive names or nicknames such as Anna, short for Annabelle, or Theo, short for Théodore.
This was a big deal. Some European countries still don’t allow this. Take Portugal; if you want to name your child Tom, you can’t. You have to call your child Tomás.
Foreign names were also fair game in France.
Many parents took advantage of the new law and France saw names it had never seen before, Ringo, Fatima and even Mohamed-Ali were suddenly perfectly good baby names in France.
Arabic names such as Mohammad begin making the top 100 list of newborn names in France for the first time in the 1960s and 1970s.
There was a boom of baby boys born with the foreign name Kevin.
And lastly, the new 1966 baby name law meant parents could also use names inspired by mythology such as HARMONIE, the daughter of Ares and Aphrodite.
1993 baby name law: French parents have carte blanche to use more creative names.
In 1993, the law changed once again when French President François Mitterrand introduced “Loi n° 93-22.”
Finally, parents had the freedom to be a little more creative in their baby naming choices as long as the name given was “in the best interest of the child and not detrimental to the rights of other families or third parties.”
It was open season for baby names.
Some parents took advantage of the more lax baby naming rules and began giving their children never before seen names that would have been banned before 1993.
For instance, from 2004 to 2020, 81 parents named their sons Paris. The name “Zoey” also appeared for the first time in France in 2010.
Although French citizens can name their children whatever they want now, you still won’t find many French names that are too Avant-garde or crazy.
But for those parents who do want to go a little wild with their child’s name, the French government can step in and stop you, thanks to article 57 of the Civil code.
Names that have been banned in France
There is no official list of banned names that parents in France can refer to, like Portugal, which has an 82-page list of nearly 4000 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 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 parts of France but denied in others.
Parents can always fight the courts, but they don’t always succeed.
Here is a list of names that have been banned.
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 that 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, 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 decided to name him MJ (all caps) in honour of Michael Jackson, who died the previous year.
6 months later, the couple received a letter in the mail 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 page, 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.”
There are plenty of French children that 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 of 2018, in Morbihan (Brittany), a gay couple named their son Ambre. AMBRE is Pronounced /Owm-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’re 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 means “crazy April.” The little girl’s mother renamed her Zoé.
12) Marie -Automne
In 1975, a couple in Lille thought it would be lovely to give their daughter the compound name, Marie-Automne. Denied!
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 that was 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 this 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.
Request denied 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 legal now
In 1984, parents who dreamed of living the American dream wanted to name their child 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 1000 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.)
According to INSEE, the first name Ravi was given to children in France 56 times between 1968 and 2013.
Names once legal but 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 to Mohamed 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 for 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 which has a distinctive Breton Celtic personality, 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 alphabet (of the Breton people of northwest France.) 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 Fañch 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:
If you’re not a French citizen and your children are not French citizens but you live in France, 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.