The image below, of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris, was captured in early 1838 by Louis Daguerre, inventor of the daguerreotype.
It may be the earliest surviving photograph of a person. Two people, actually. Both are in the lower left:
Here’s a close-up:
The standing man is getting his shoe shined, and the other man (partially obscured) is doing the shoe-shining.
Of all the people on the sidewalk that day, these were the only two to stay still long enough (about 10 minutes) to be captured in the image.
Now for the fun part!
What would you name these two Frenchmen?
Let’s pretend you’re writing a book set in Paris in the 1830s, and these are two of your characters. What names would you give them?
Here’s a long list of traditional French male names, to get you started:
Abel Absolon Achille Adam Adolphe Adrien Aimé Alain Alban Albert Alexandre Alfred Alphonse Amaury Amroise Amédée Anatole André Anselme Antoine Antonin Apollinaire Ariel Aristide Armand Arnaud Arsène Arthur Aubert Aubin Auguste Augustin Aurèle Aurélien Baptiste Barnabé Barthélémy Basile Bastien Benjamin Benoit Bernard Bertrand Blaise Boniface Bruno Calixte Camille Céleste Célestin Césaire César Charles Christian Christophe
Clair Claude Clément Clovis Constant Constantin Corentin Corin Corneille Cosme Cyril Damien Daniel David Denis Déodat Désiré Didier Dieudonné Dimitri Diodore Dominique Donat Donatien Edgar Edgard Edmé Edmond Édouard Élie Eloi Émeric Émile Émilien Emmanuel Enzo Éric Ermenegilde Ernest Ethan Étienne Eugène Eustache Évariste Évrard Fabien Fabrice Félicien Félix Ferdinand Fernand Fiacre Firmin Florence Florent
Florentin Florian Francis François Frédéric Gabriel Gaël Gaëtan Gaspard Gaston Gaubert Geoffroy Georges Gérard Géraud Germain Gervais Ghislain Gilbert Gilles Gratien Grégoire Guatier Guillaume Gustave Guy Hector Henri Herbert Hercule Hervé Hilaire Hippolyte Honoré Horace Hubert Hugues Humbert Hyacinthe Ignace Irénée Isidore Jacques Jason Jean Jérémie Jérôme Joachim Jocelyn Joël Jonathan Joseph Josse Josué Jourdain
Jules Julien Juste Justin Laurent Laurentin Lazare Léandre Léo Léon Léonard Léonce Léonide Léopold Lionel Loïc Lothaire Louis Loup Luc Lucas Lucien Lucrèce Ludovic Maël Marc Marcel Marcellin Marin Marius Martin Mathieu Mathis Matthias Maurice Maxence Maxime Maximilien Michaël Michel Modeste Narcisse Nathan Nathanaël Nazaire Nicéphore Nicodème Nicolas Noé Noël Norbert Odilon Olivier Onésime Pascal
Patrice Paul Philippe Pierre Placide Pons Prosper Quentin Rainier Raoul Raphaël Raymond Régis Rémy René Reynaud Richard Robert Roch Rodolphe Rodrigue Roger Roland Romain Rosaire Ruben Salomon Samuel Sébastien Séraphin Serge Sévère Séverin Simon Sylvain Sylvestre Télesphore Théodore Théophile Thibault Thierry Thomas Timothée Toussaint Urbain Valentin Valère Valéry Vespasien Victor Vincent Vivien Xavier Yves Zacharie
For some real-life inspiration, here are lists of famous 19th century and 20th century French people, courtesy of Wikipedia. Notice that many of the Frenchman have double-barreled, triple-barreled, even quadruple-barreled given names. (Daguerre himself was named Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre.)
In yesterday’s post I mentioned that, up until the 1960s, the citizens of France were forced to obey a restrictive baby name law that was enacted in 1803.
Why did that law exist?
In order to curb the very non-traditional baby naming practices that had evolved during the years of the French Revolution.
It all started in September of 1792, one day before the French National Convention abolished the monarchy. On that day, 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 (i.e., names that referred to nature, to the new republican calendar*, to republican virtues, to republican heroes, or to antiquity).
And, of course, they started giving their children revolutionary names as well.
Examples of these names include…
“Bee” / refers to the date Germinal 15 (Apr. 4)
“Apricot” / refers to the date Thermidor 13 (Jul. 31)
“Poplar” / refers to the date Pluviôse 9 (Jan. 28)
Philippe Thomas Ve de bon coeur pour la République
Philippe Thomas “Go with a good heart for the Republic”
according to one source, it’s “Greek for a woman giving birth only to warrior sons”
“Apple” / refers to the date Brumaire 1 (Oct. 22)
Racine de la Liberté
“Root of Freedom”
“Horseradish” / refers to the date Frimaire 12 (Dec. 2)
“Rhubarb” / refers to the date Floréal 11 (Apr. 30)
refers to politician Maximilien Robespierre
refers to ancient Roman general Scipio Africanus
“Rye” / refers to the date Messidor 1 (Jun. 19)
Simon Liberté ou la Mort
Simon “Freedom or Death”
refers to ancient Roman gladiator and military leader Spartacus
“Elderberry” / refers to the date Prairial 17 (Jun. 5)
based on thermon, Greek for “summer heat” / one of the summertime months of the republican calendar
“Tuberose” / refers to the date Fructidor 6 (Aug. 23)
Though it’s impossible to estimate just how many revolution-era babies got revolutionary names, the number seems to be well into the thousands, judging by statements like these:
“[I]n the winter and spring of 1794 at least 60 per cent of children received revolutionary names in Marseilles, Montpellier, Nevers, and Rouen.”
“[I]n Poitiers…only 62 of 593 babies born in the year II [1793-94] were named after saints in the ancien régime manner. Instead, they were given names reflecting the contrasting sources of political inspiration.”
About a decade later, however, all this creative naming came to an end.
Under Napoleon Bonaparte, the French government enacted a law that restricted French given names to “names used in various calendars” (that is, the names of Catholic saints) 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.
*The French republican calendar, in use from 1793 to 1806, was a secular take on the Catholic Church’s calendar of saints. The months “were named after natural elements, while each day was named for a seed, tree, flower, fruit, animal, or tool.”