Revolution-Era Names in France

BastilleIn yesterday’s post on Breton baby names in France, I mentioned a French name law from the early 19th century.

That 1803 law has an interesting history, complete with ties to the French Revolution.

In September of 1792, one day before the French National Convention abolished the monarchy, a decree was issued. The decree allowed the citizens of France to change their forenames quite easily–all they had to do was “make a simple formal declaration before the registrar of their local municipality.”

Many people took advantage of this decree and chose new names with a revolutionary flavor, such as:

Name Significance/Translation
Amour Sacré de la Patrie l’an Trois Sacred Love of the Native Land Year III
Armoise Mugwort (date: 7 Thermidor)
Belle de Nuit Four o’clock flower (date: 16 Vendémiaire)
Betterave Beet root (date: 4 Brumaire)
Bitume Bitumen (date: 3 Nivôse)
Crainte Fear
Dix-Août 10 August
Droit de l’Homme Tricolor Right of Man Tricolor
Fleur d’0range Républicaine Republican Orange-Flower
Floréal spring month
Fraise Strawberry (date: 11 Prairial)
Franchise Candor
Houlette Shepherd’s crook (date: 30 Floréal)
La Loi The Law
La Montagne The Mountain
Lucius Pleb-Egal Lucius Plebeian-Equality
Marat Jean-Paul Marat
Maratine Jean-Paul Marat
Mort aux Aristocrates Death to the Aristocrats
Pelletier Louis-Michel le Peletier (?)
Peuplier Poplar (date: 9 Pluviôse)
Pomme Apple (date: 1 Brumaire)
Racine de la Liberté Root of Freedom
Raifort Horseradish (date: 12 Frimaire)
Raison Reason
Régénérée Vigueur Regenerated Strength
Rhubarbe Rhubarb (date: 11 Floréal)
Robespierre Maximilien Robespierre
Rose Postale Fructidor Rose Postal Fructidor (summer month)
Seigle Rye (date: 1 Messidor)
Simon la Liberté ou la Mort Simon Freedom or Death
Sureau Elderberry (date: 17 Prairial)
Thermidor summer month
Va de Bon Coeur pour la République Strive with a Will for the Republic
Victoire Fédérative Federal Victory

These patriotic name-changes happened mostly in “urban areas, and particularly those, like Rouen, where Revolutionary fervour was intense.”

But, apparently, they got out of hand.

A decade later, a law was written that restricted French given names to “names used in various calendars” (that is, Catholic saint names) and “names of persons known from ancient history.” In essence, the law was meant to “put an end to citizens bearing absurd names that signified inanimate objects, forms of vegetation, membership of the animal kingdom and abstract concepts.”

….And this was the law that gave the Manrot-le Goarnic family so much difficulty when they tried to give their children Breton names a century and a half later.


5 thoughts on “Revolution-Era Names in France

  1. Once again, a uniquely interesting back story on historical naming practices. Interesting that the revolutionary name-changes concerned adults making the decision to re-name themselves, while the resulting law applied to names that could be chosen for infants. Personally, I have no problem with adults calling themselves anything they want, but with infants, sometimes it does seem that parents today go too far in trying to give their child a ‘uniquik’ name.

  2. A somewhat relevant quote from Les Mis:

    However, we will remark by the way, everything was not ridiculous and superficial in that curious epoch to which we are alluding, and which may be designated as the anarchy of baptismal names. By the side of this romantic element which we have just indicated there is the social symptom. It is not rare for the neatherd’s boy nowadays to bear the name of Arthur, Alfred, or Alphonse, and for the vicomte–if there are still any vicomtes–to be called Thomas, Pierre, or Jacques. This displacement, which places the “elegant” name on the plebeian and the rustic name on the aristocrat, is nothing else than an eddy of equality. The irresistible penetration of the new inspiration is there as everywhere else. Beneath this apparent discord there is a great and a profound thing,–the French Revolution.

  3. Some interesting facts about baby names during the years of the revolution, from The French Revolution, 1789-1799 (2001) by Peter McPhee:

    • “It is impossible to estimate how many parents gave revolutionary names to babies in these years”
    • “The practice of giving revolutionary names varied enormously across the country”

    And some specific baby names listed in the book:

    • Faisceau Pique Terreur (boy, Chalons-sur-Marne)
    • Travail (boy, Seine-et-Marne)
    • Fumier (boy, Seine-et-Marne)
    • Phytogyneantrope — “Greek for a woman giving birth only to warrior sons” (girl, Hautes-Alpes)
    • Francois Abricot Alengri (Gabain)
    • Jean-Pierre Abeille Canac (Gabain)
    • Rose Eleonore Jonquille Couderc (Gabain)
    • Andre Aubergine Foulquier (Gabain)
    • Rose Tubereause Jougla (Gabain)
    • Catherine Laurier Thim Latreille (Gabain)
    • Marie Etain [pewter] Salasc (Gabain)
    • Decadi (La Rochelle)
    • Minerve (La Rochelle)
    • Bara (La Rochelle)
    • Humain (La Rochelle)
    • Ail (La Rochelle)
    • Carotte (La Rochelle)
    • Cresson (La Rochelle)

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