When you start learning French or any other foreign language, one of the first things you learn is to ask for somebody’s name. While questions used to meet and greet people have always been important, the names themselves come and go. A first name that was trendy a few decades ago may now be dated, while others have only recently come into fashion. This is why members of a family may have different first names depending on their generation, and why entire websites exist to track trends in first names across time. Our list of ten French male names reflects this fluctuating popularity and the emergence of new trends.
3 popular French male names
Whether they’re steeped in history or are brand-new on the scene, each of these three popular French male names embodies the trends of the moment.
French kings seemed especially keen to choose this name once they were crowned. Louis I, one of Charlemagne’s sons, took the throne upon his father’s death in 814 and reigned until his own death in 840. The last French king to be named Louis was Louis XVIII. The younger brother of Louis XVI, he reigned for less than a year, from April 1814 to March 1815.
Probably the most famous French sovereign to hold the name was Louis XIV, also called le Roi-Soleil (the Sun King). Crowned at the tender age of five in 1643, he reigned until his death in 1715. Perhaps this illustrious, dramatic past accounts for the enduring popularity of the name Louis.
This name had slowly but surely fallen out of fashion, only to become trendy again in the last three decades. Back in the old days, you could use it in conversations to informally refer to a boyfriend, similarly to the word “man” in English. So, you might say, Caroline a un nouveau Jules (Caroline has a new man).
This name references Victor Hugo, one of the most celebrated French writers and the author of such masterpieces as Notre-Dame de Paris and Les Misérables. But it wasn’t until the late 1960s that Hugo started to be used as a first name, rather than strictly as a surname. Since then, it has steadily grown in popularity — a reminder that, in France, it’s not uncommon for first names to also be used as last names.
3 old-fashioned French male names
On the other end of the spectrum, the following three first names were once very popular before falling out of fashion.
Yes, you read it right: The word for Christmas in French also serves as a male first name, albeit a very rare one. Maybe new parents worry that their child might think it’s Christmas every day! Although it may be hard to tell, the name comes from the Latin word natalis, which translates to “birth.”
If this first name reached a peak of popularity a century ago, it has slowly run out of favor ever since. It has remained out of fashion for the last 50 years, and it doesn’t seem the trend will change any time soon. That’s an unfortunate outcome for a strong name meaning “courageous” or “adventurous.”
If you’re mastering the passé composé in French, you may already be aware that rené is the past participle of renaître (to be reborn). So, there may be hope after all for this male first name to regain popularity after half a century of being out of fashion.
4 common hyphenated French male names
Hyphenated first names are among the most enduring clichés about France. In reality, they are not as popular as they once were. But, from the traditional to the innovative, hyphenated first names remain somewhat common options when naming a newborn baby in France.
Jean-Marc, Jean-François, Jean-Pierre, Jean-Michel…
Traditionally speaking, Jean is the most common name to appear at the start of a hyphenated first name. And Jean-Paul is one of the most common variants. From world-famous French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre to Jean-Paul Belmondo, one of the most popular French actors of his day, this male first name has a few celebrities attached to it.
Less common than others even in the heyday of hyphenated names, Charles-Henri is one of those French first names that comes with an air of poshness, which can be even a source of mockery or parody.
If hyphenated names are not as popular as they once were, they still have good days ahead of them with new variants becoming trendy. Such is the case of Léo-Paul, which was pretty much unheard of before the late 1980s. Just don’t confuse it with Léopold!
This is yet another hyphenated name that has gained in popularity in recent years. Of course, it may be inspired by the famous American boxer. But Mohammed-Ali also reflects the evolution of modern French society, with a growing number of its population being Muslims of North-African descent.
The top ten of French male first names
From popular to dated and back in fashion again, the ten French male names in our list are not all equal in popularity. Certain trends may have disappeared or at least decreased, while others have taken on new forms, evolving alongside modern French society. After all, it’s all in the name!