Speaking of names in the Swedish royal family…the Swedish royal family caused some controversy back in 2012 when Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel named their baby girl Estelle.
One Swedish journalist said the name was “a very strange choice which I believe will be much discussed.” He added: “Estelle sounds like the name of a nightclub queen.”
Many speculated that the princess was named after American-born Countess Estelle Bernadotte (1904-1984) in order to make a political statement. Estelle’s husband Folke Bernadotte (son of Ebba Munck) was assassinated in Jerusalem in 1948, and one of the people behind the murder was future Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
Regardless of the reason it was chosen, the Princess’s name is now more popular than ever before in Sweden. Usage dipped right after she was born, but rebounded a few years later:
2017: 75 baby girls named Estelle in Sweden
2016: 70 baby girls named Estelle in Sweden
2015: 43 baby girls named Estelle in Sweden
2014: 45 baby girls named Estelle in Sweden
2013: 33 baby girls named Estelle in Sweden
2012: 55 baby girls named Estelle in Sweden
2011: 64 baby girls named Estelle in Sweden
2010: 53 baby girls named Estelle in Sweden
2009: 38 baby girls named Estelle in Sweden
2008: 41 baby girls named Estelle in Sweden
It didn’t come close to hitting the top 10 in 2017, but did rank somewhere around 145th.
According to one source, “[t]he name Estelle fits into a smallish trend in Sweden, where names of French origin — or just French-sounding — are slowly becoming popular. Some other names in this group are: Amélie, Celine, Leonie and Noelle.”
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?
A reader named Steff asked me about the name Genevieve the other day:
I love it, but it seems like it would be difficult for a little girl to spell & pronounce. What are your opinions?
I agree that Genevieve could be challenging for some little girls. But I definitely don’t think this should deter you from using it, if you love it. A lot of great names (e.g. Madeleine, Jacqueline, Maximilian) are tricky for children to say and spell correctly, but I would hate to think they’re being used less because of this.
A cute nickname like Gen or Vivi might work well for a little girl named Genevieve until she’s old enough to tackle the full name.
What do you guys think of the name Genevieve–too cumbersome for a little girl?
Steff also asked:
Would you be able to suggest names based on these siblings names? – Charlotte, Sophie, Evan & Connor
I’m guessing the focus is female names (i.e. alternatives to Genevieve) so I tried for traditional options that don’t repeat any of the beginning or ending sounds of Charlotte, Sophie, Evan or Connor. Here’s what I came up with: