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French regions' name changes lead to mockery

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If you're looking for Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, you won't find it on maps created after today. Photo: AFP
16:16 CET+01:00
Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie’s regional council voted on a new name for the region on Monday, but not everyone is pleased.

Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie’s regional council voted on a new name for the region on Monday. The name they selected was Hauts-de-France, and it will retain Nord Pas de Calais-Picardie as a 'subtitle'.

The 170 councillors had a choice between three names: Nord-de-France, Terres-du-Nord and Hauts-de-France, which were suggested by pupils at local lycées and on apprenticeship schemes.

The latter had the advantage of not seeming to favour the former Nord-Pas-de-Calais over Picardie and received all of the votes, aside from the National Front councillors, who abstained. The two regions were merged in 2015 as part of Hollande’s territorial reforms, and the new region has existed by law since January 1st of this year.

But not everyone is delighted with the region’s new name, with some wondering what the inhabitants of Hauts-de-France would be called if they are to avoid confusion with the adjective ‘l’hauteur’, which means ‘arrogance’ and others questioning the logic of a name translating as 'heights of France' for a generally flat region.

Last week, over 55,000 local residents voted online for their preferred name, though it was the councillors who had the final say. The next stage is for the name to be validated by the Council of Ministers, between now and July 1st, and then by October 1st the State Council will issue a decree, making the name change legal.

On January 1st of this year, 22 regions became 13, leading to identity crises all round. Up until now, the regions have simply been referred to by the names of the original regions, usually in alphabetical order.

But with as many as three regions becoming one, this proved be a bit of a mouthful.


In some areas, the decision seems to be an easy one. Bourgogne-Franche-Comté's residents voted last week to say whether they were happy to keep the current name. Anyone with strong feelings against it was invited to submit an alternative, but previous polls suggest they will stick will Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.

Elsewhere however, residents are faced with a lengthier process. Over in Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne, a poll opened on Monday to choose between Acalie, Rhin-Champagne and Nouvelle Austrasie, and the selected name will be revealed at the end of April.

Again, not everyone was impressed by the choices. Some residents felt that the names sounded like they'd been plucked from a fantasy novel, while others were worried about tourists being confused by the similarity between Austrasie and Australie, the French name for Australia.

"Are you going to Nouvelle Austrasie or Terres du Nord this summer? I don't know, I'm also considering Arendelle [the setting of Disney film Frozen] and Hogwarts."

"Nouvelle Austrasie! Abroad, they're going to think of Australia!"

In Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, the name may simply be switched to Rhône-Alpes Auvergne for ease of pronunciation, but this option faces competition from ideas provided by local students, including La Volc'en Loire, Puyrhônealpes, La Rhognale, Entre Monts et Rhône and Lyon et Montagnes. A public poll is open until March 25th, but it's the council who will get the final say.

And in Aquitaine – Limousin – Poitou-Charentes and Languedoc-Roussillon – Midi-Pyrénées, committees are still hard at work narrowing down the suggested names to create a shortlist for a council vote.

The transition from 22 regions to 13 hasn't gone entirely smoothy, with several mayors not happy about their towns losing the status of being capital of a region.

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But it is hoped that having fewer regions will help to streamline administrative processes across the country.
 

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