For members


What’s in a name? Understanding how to fill out forms in France

French bureaucracy is of course famously cumbersome, but it also has a few minefields for the unwary - particularly around the issue of names.

What's in a name? Understanding how to fill out forms in France
Don't get the wrong name, or you might need to fill in all these forms again. Photo: AFP

You might think that knowing your own name is fairly straightforward – but not when it comes to filling out French forms.

You might be asked for your nom, prénom, nom de naissance, nom de famille, nom patronymique, nom de jeune fille, nom d'usage or nom marital.

And if you fill out the wrong one, you can end up with your application being rejected and having to start the whole thing again.

So let's look at what's what

Nom – this means your family name/ surname and it almost always comes first in France. On formal letters you will often be addressed with your family name first, usually in capitals.

Often when you are asked to put your nom and prénom on a form, you put your family name first followed by your surname. In other words “SMITH John”.

Prénom – this is your first name. If you have middle names you can add that, but it's not compulsory unless the form specifically asks for all your names

Nom de naissance – this is the family name you were born with. For some people that will be the same as their current name, but anyone who has changed their name either through marriage or for any other reason is required to tell French authorities what name they were born with (unless you have obtained a new birth certificate, for example through adoption).

Nom de famille – this is the same as birth name, they are not asking for your current surname (that is always Nom) they are asking for the surname on you birth certificate.

Nom de patronymique – this is a little old fashioned and not often used, but it means the name as nom de naissance and nom de famille – it's the name on your birth certificate.

Nom de jeune fille – for women only, this is your maiden name – your surname before you got married.

If you've gone through your life with the same surname, it's best to just fill it in on all these sections to make it clear that you have kept the same name throughout your life.

Nom d'usage – this is the name that you use. It's particularly aimed at women, some of whom change their names to their husband's surname when they get married and some of whom don't and doesn't have to be the same as your legal surname.

Nom marital – married name. For use if you have changed your name when you got married. In France when you get married it's up to you whether you want to change your name or not. Your name stays as your original family name on all official documents.

What you are allowed to do, however, is to keep your own family name on legal documents and take your spouse's name – or create a double-barrelled name with your spouse – and use it as a marital name or nom d'usage.

For official purposes, you retain your original name on documents but you can add a married name in the second name field of forms.

If you want this to be the name that you are addressed by, indicate it in the nom d'usage box and letters will be addressed to you using that name. Your official family name for documents, however, remains the same.

If you get divorced you can keep your spouse's name as a nom d'usage – but you will need written permission from your former spouse.

This can create problems for Anglophone women in France, as in the UK and US it is more common after marriage – if you decide to change your name – to change it on official documents like a driver's licence. This can lead to a situation where you are presenting a driving licence or passport and birth certificate with different names on, which French authorities find confusing.

The same applies to nicknames or shortened names – this is an important one because although in Anglophone countries it is common for Katherines to be Kate, Edwards to be Ted or Benjamins to be Ben even on official documents, in France you need to use your full name at all times for anything more formal than a beer with your mates.

Anyone presenting a passport with Benedict on it and a driving licence with Ben on it is going to run in to trouble in France.

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For members


What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer


But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.