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…
|Abeille||“Bee” / refers to the date Germinal 15 (Apr. 4)|
|Abricot||“Apricot” / refers to the date Thermidor 13 (Jul. 31)|
|Agricola-Viala||refers to Joseph Agricol Viala, child-martyr of the French Revolution|
|Ail||“Garlic” / refers to the date Messidor 27 (Jul. 15)|
|Amour Sacré de la Patrie l’an Trois||“Sacred Love of the Fatherland Year III”|
|Armoise||“Mugwort” / refers to the date Thermidor 7 (Jul. 25)|
|Aubergine||“Eggplant” / refers to the date Vendémiaire 26 (Oct. 17)|
|Bara||refers to drummer boy Joseph Bara, child-martyr of the French Revolution|
|Belle de Nuit||“Four o’clock flower”/ refers to the date Vendémiaire 16 (Oct. 7)|
|Betterave||“Beet root” / refers to the date Brumaire 4 (Oct. 25)|
|Bitume||“Bitumen” / refers to the date Nivôse 3 (Dec. 23)|
|Brutus||refers to ancient Roman politician Brutus|
|Carmagnole||refers to the song “La Carmagnole“|
|Carotte||“Carrot” / refers to the date Vendémiaire 7 (Sept. 28)|
|Calas||refers to executed merchant Jean Calas|
|Catherine Laurier Thim||Catherine “Laurier-thym,” or “Laurustinus” / refers to the date Pluviôse 6 (Jan. 25)|
|Citoyen Français||“French Citizen”|
|Cresson||“Watercress” / refers to the date Brumaire 17 (Nov. 7)|
|Décadi||“Tenth day” (of the ten-day week) / refers to the day of rest that replaced Sunday|
|Dix-Août||“10 August” / refers to the insurrection of August 10 (1792) that overthrew the French monarchy|
|Dixhuit Fructidor||“18 Fructidor” / refers to the Coup of 18 Fructidor in Year V (Sept. 4, 1797)|
|Droit de l’Homme Tricolor||“Right of Man Tricolor”|
|Étain||“Tin” / refers to the date Nivôse 26 (Jan. 25)|
|Faisceau Pique Terreur||“Fasces,” “Pike,” “Terror” / refers, at least partially, to the Reign of Terror|
|Fleur d’Orange Républicaine||“Republican Orange-Flower”|
|Floréal||based on fleur, “flower” / one of the springtime months of the republican calendar|
|Fraise||“Strawberry” / refers to the date Prairial 11 (May 30)|
|Franchise (frahng-sheez)||“Frankness” / the root word, franc, is semantically associated with both “freedom” and “Frenchness”|
|Fructidor||based on fructis, Latin for “fruit” / one of the summertime months of the republican calendar|
|Fumier||“Manure” / refers to the date Nivôse 8 (Dec. 28)|
|Guillaume Tell||refers to folk hero William Tell|
|Helvétius Mably||refers to French philosophers Gabriel Bonnot de Mably and Claude Adrien Helvétius|
|Houlette||“Shepherd’s crook” / refers to the date Floréal 30 (May 19)|
|Isabelle Civilis Victoire Jemmapes Dumouriez||Isabelle, “Civil,” “Victory,” Jemmapes [sic] refers to the Battle of Jemappes, and Dumouriez refers to general Charles François Dumouriez|
|Jonquille||“Daffodil” / refers to the date Germinal 8 (Mar. 28)|
|La Loi||“The Law”|
|La Montagne||“The Mountain” / refers to a political group|
|Laurent Sans-culottes||Laurent “Without Breeches” / refers to the common people|
|Le Peletier||refers to politician Louis-Michel le Peletier|
|Lucius Pleb-Egal||Lucius “Plebeian-Equality”|
|Marat||refers to journalist and revolutionary martyr Jean-Paul Marat|
|Maratine||refers to journalist and revolutionary martyr Jean-Paul Marat|
|Marat, ami du peuple||“Marat, friend of the people”|
|Marat, défenseur de la Patrie||“Marat, defender of the Fatherland”|
|Minerve||refers to Roman goddess Minerva|
|Mort aux Aristocrates||“Death to the Aristocrats”|
|Mucius Scaevola||refers to ancient Roman youth Scaevola|
|Peuplier||“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”|
|Phytogynéantrope||according to one source, it’s “Greek for a woman giving birth only to warrior sons”|
|Pomme||“Apple” / refers to the date Brumaire 1 (Oct. 22)|
|Racine de la Liberté||“Root of Freedom”|
|Raifort||“Horseradish” / refers to the date Frimaire 12 (Dec. 2)|
|Régénérée Vigueur||“Regenerated Strength”|
|Rhubarbe||“Rhubarb” / refers to the date Floréal 11 (Apr. 30)|
|Robespierre||refers to politician Maximilien Robespierre|
|Sans Crainte||“Without Fear”|
|Scipion l’Africain||refers to ancient Roman general Scipio Africanus|
|Seigle||“Rye” / refers to the date Messidor 1 (Jun. 19)|
|Simon Liberté ou la Mort||Simon “Freedom or Death”|
|Spartacus||refers to ancient Roman gladiator and military leader Spartacus|
|Sureau||“Elderberry” / refers to the date Prairial 17 (Jun. 5)|
|Thermidor||based on thermon, Greek for “summer heat” / one of the summertime months of the republican calendar|
|Tubéreuse||“Tuberose” / refers to the date Fructidor 6 (Aug. 23)|
|Unitée Impérissable||“Imperishable Unity”|
|Vengeur Constant||“Constant Avenger”|
|Victoire Fédérative||“Federal Victory”|
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.”
- Cuen, Lucrezia. “French May Get a Choice in Babies’ Names.” ABC News 9 Feb. 2001.
- ‘Franchise’: Profit from Freedom – Merriam-Webster
- French Republican calendar – Wikipedia
- Hörsch, Nicoline. Republikanische Personennamen: Eine anthroponymische Studie zur Französischen Revolution. Tübingen, Germany: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1994.
- McPhee, Peter. The French Revolution, 1789-1799. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
- Munday, Roderick. “The girl they named Manhattan: the law of forenames in France and England.” Legal Studies 5.3 (1985): 331–344.
- Munro, Andre. “The 12 Months of the French Republican Calendar.” Britannica.com.
- Willis, Sam. The Glorious First of June: Fleet Battle in the Reign of Terror. New York: Quercus, 2011.