In 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:
|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)|
|Droit de l’Homme Tricolor||Right of Man Tricolor|
|Fleur d’0range Républicaine||Republican Orange-Flower|
|Fraise||Strawberry (date: 11 Prairial)|
|Houlette||Shepherd’s crook (date: 30 Floréal)|
|La Loi||The Law|
|La Montagne||The Mountain|
|Lucius Pleb-Egal||Lucius Plebeian-Equality|
|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)|
|Régénérée Vigueur||Regenerated Strength|
|Rhubarbe||Rhubarb (date: 11 Floréal)|
|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)|
|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.
- Cuen, Lucrezia. “French May Get a Choice in Babies’ Names.” ABC News 9 Feb. 2001.
- Munday, Roderick. “The girl they named Manhattan: the law of forenames in France and England.” Legal Studies 5.3 (1985): 331–344.