I mentioned the Mariel boatlift in last week’s post on Margaux Hemingway. It was the mass emigration of 125,000 Cubans to Florida in 1980 (from April to October). All the boats leaving Cuba sailed from the port of Mariel — the port closest to the United States.
So far I’ve discovered two Cuban refugee babies who were given names related to the event. The first was a baby girl named Reina Mariela:
A steady stream of refugee boats returning from the Cuban port of Mariel swelled the 35-day total past 71,000 Friday, including the youngest refugee, Reina Mariela Miranda. She was born about eight hours before the 80-foot “Reef Queen,” packed with 308 refugees, docked here early Friday, said Dr. Armando Cruz. The baby’s name means Queen Mariel.
The second was a baby boy named Valiant:
During the 1980 Mariel Boatlift, James M. Loy commanded the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Valiant and rescued a Cuban woman clinging to a sinking piece of Styrofoam. She soon gave birth on the ship’s deck and was evacuated to a hospital. Days later, he went to see her at the hospital. She had named the baby Valiant.
The name Margaux debuted in the U.S. baby name data in the mid-1970s:
1978: 33 baby girls named Margaux
1977: 44 baby girls named Margaux
1976: 35 baby girls named Margaux
1975: 18 baby girls named Margaux [debut]
Margaux Hemingway, granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway, who became famous as a fashion model in the mid-1970s. Notably, she was awarded the first-ever million-dollar modeling contract — from Fabergé. She was the spokesmodel for the company’s popular Babe perfume, launched in 1976.
Margaux was born “Margot,” but later changed the spelling of her name. According to her obituary in the New York Times, “[s]he was said to have changed her name from Margot when she learned that her parents drank Chateau Margaux on the night of her conception.”
Both “Margaux” and “Margot” can be traced back to the name Marguerite, the French form of Margaret (from the Ancient Greek word margarites, meaning “pearl”).
It’s interesting to note that the spelling of the French wine/winery/region has varied over time. One 17th-century map of Château Margaux, for instance, called it “Margaud.” And the wine has been labeled Margou, Margous, Margoo, Margoose, Margoux, etc.
Margaux Hemingway’s younger sister, actress Mariel Hemingway — named after the port town of Mariel in Cuba — starred in the 1979 Woody Allen film Manhattan and was likely the reason the name Mariel saw higher usage in 1980. (News about the Mariel boatlift that year may have been an influence as well, though.)
Which name would you be more likely to use for a baby girl, Margaux or Mariel?
At first glance, Guillaume always looks like gobbledygook to me. It’s the French form of William — that much I know — but it takes a few seconds for me to remember that it’s pronounced ghee-ohm, not not gwill-awm or gwee-awm.
And it’s not just Guillaume that trips me up. I find many other French names (Étienne, Edwige, Anaïs, etc.) equally tricky to pronounce.
So for those of us who struggle with French names, here are some simplified rules of French pronunciation, plus names to illustrate each rule.
This list is far from comprehensive, and my pronunciations are just approximations, but hopefully my fellow non-French speakers out there will find it helpful nonetheless.
French Pronunciation + French Names
AU: The vowel combination “AU” is pronounced like a long o.
Paul, in French, is pronounced pohl.
Margaux, a French form of Margaret, is pronounced mar-goh.
CH: The letter combination “CH” is typically pronounced sh.
Charles, in French, is pronounced shahrl.
D, P, S, T, X, Z: The six consonants “D,” “P,” “S,” “T,” “X” and “Z,” when at the end of a word, are typically silent.
Arnaud, the French form of Arnold, is pronounced ar-noh.
Denis, the French form of Dennis, is pronounced de-nee (remember the Blondie song?).
Lucas, in French, is pronounced loo-kah.
Louis, in French, is pronounced loo-ee (think Louis Vuitton).
…They’re not always silent, though. Here are some exceptions:
Alois, the French form of Aloysius, is pronounced ah-loh-ees.
Anaïs, a French form of Anna, is pronounced ah-nah-ees.
David, in French, is pronounced dah-veed.
Ë: The pronunciation of “Ë” (E with a trema) is like the e in the English word “bet.”
Gaël and Gaëlle are pronounced gah-el or gai-el.
Joël and Joëlle are pronounced zhoh-el.
Maël and Maëlle are pronounced mah-el or mai-el.
Noël and Noëlle are pronounced noh-el.
É: The pronunciation of “É” (E with an acute accent) is somewhere between the ee in “see” and the e in “bet.”
Noé, the French masculine form of Noah, is pronounced noh-ee.
Salomé, in French, is pronounced sah-loh-mee.
G: The consonant “G” is soft (zh) when followed by “E” or “I” but hard (gh) otherwise.
Georges, the French form of George, is pronounced zhorzh.
Guy, in French, is pronounced ghee.
H: The consonant “H” is silent.
Hélène, the French form of Helen, is pronounced eh-lehn.
I: The vowel “I,” and the forms Ï, and Î, are all pronounced ee.
Loïc, a French form of Louis, is pronounced loh-eek.
J: The consonant “J” is pronounced zh.
Jacques, the French form of Jacob, is pronounced zhahk.
LL: The letter combination “LL” is typically pronounced like an l.
Achille, the French form of Achilles, is pronounced ah-sheel.
Lucille, the French form of Lucilla, is pronounced loo-seel.
…But in some cases “LL” is pronounced like a y.
Guillaume, the French form of William, is pronounced ghee-yohm or ghee-ohm.
OI: The vowel combination “OI” is pronounced wah.
Antoine, the French form of Antony, is pronounced an-twahn.
Grégoire, the French form of Gregory, is pronounced gre-gwahr.
OU: The vowel combination “OU” is pronounced oo.
Lilou is pronounced lee-loo.
R: The consonant “R,” when at the end of a word, is typically pronounced.
Clair, the French masculine form of Claire, is pronounced kler.
Edgar, in French, is pronounced ed-gahr.
…When the “R” is preceded by an “E,” though, it is not pronounced.
Gauthier, the French form of Walter, is pronounced goh-tee-yay or goh-tyay (remember Gotye?).
Olivier, the French form of Oliver, is pronounced oh-lee-vee-yay or oh-lee-vyay (think Laurence Olivier).
TH: The letter combination “TH” is typically pronounced like a t (which makes sense, since “H” is silent).
Thibault, the French form of Theobald, is pronounced tee-boh.
TI: The letter combination “TI” is sometimes pronounced like an s or sy.
Laëtitia is pronounced lay-tee-sya.
W: The consonant “W” is pronounced like a v.
Edwige, the French form of Hedwig, is pronounced ed-veezh.
And finally, just a few more French names that I tend to have trouble with.
Anatole is pronounced ah-nah-tohl.
Étienne, the French form of Stephen, is pronounced eh-tyen.
Geoffroy, the French form of Geoffrey, is pronounced zho-fwah.
Ghislain and Ghislaine are pronounced either ghee-len or zheez-len.
Ignace, the French form of Ignatius, is pronounced ee-nyas.
Those aren’t too hard, right?
That’s what I tell myself…and then I come across Guillaume in the wild and my mind goes blank all over again. :)
If you know French and would like to add to the above (either another rule of pronunciation or a more precise pronunciation for a particular name) please leave a comment.
If you’re not a French speaker, here’s my question: Which French name gives you the most trouble?