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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

The 8 boys’ names that mean something very different in French

Most foreigners who move to France have to accept that their name will be pronounced very differently here - but what about those poor souls whose name takes on a totally different meaning in French?

The 8 boys' names that mean something very different in French
Photo: Paul Hanaoka with Unsplash

If you name is not a common one in France it’s likely to get a few manglings from unaccustomed French people, but for some people the problem goes much deeper – when their name is actually also a French word that means something totally different.

Richard – generally seen as a pretty respectable type in the Anglophone world, Richard in French is a flash, loud moneybags. Un gros richard is a French insult aimed at people who are wealthy but flash and obnoxious. Calling someone a richard is like calling them a fat cat, a toff or a nob.

Kevin – this is another insult, but one directly related to the name and it has a very specific history. Briefly, the name Kévin enjoyed a short-lived popularity in France in the 1990s and then faded into obscurity again. This meant that 15 years on there was a whole generation of teenage French Kévins and the phrase faire son Kévin began to be used generally about anyone who was behaving in a childish or generally obnoxious and teenage manner. The Kévins are now grown up and, one hopes, more mature but the phrase arrête de faire ton Kévin! (stop doing your Kevin) lives on.

READ ALSO How France fell in and out of love with Kevin 

Peter – the French verb péter has a rather unfortunate meaning for men called Peter – it means to fart. The verb can also mean to burst or to explode and is used in quite a few phrases péter les plombes meaning to blow a fuse or go beserk or péter un câble which means broadly the same thing. You can also say péter le feu (farting fire) to mean being in rude health or firing on all four cylinders.

Colin – in the Anglophone world Colin might work in IT, in France he’s more likely to be grilled and served on a bed of leafy green vegetables. Yes in French colin is a type of fish, known in English as hake. It’s very tasty too, almost as tasty as Colin Farrell.

Ben – this one is only likely to cause you confusion if you see it written down. Spend long enough in France and you will notice that many French people begin sentences with a bah ouais . . . (well yeah . . .) but if you ever see this verbal tic written down, in a subtitled film for instance, you will it’s actually spelled ben ouais. Which is confusing if you are sure there is no character in the movie called Ben.

Benjamin – sometimes a benjamin is a Benjamin but sometimes it is not. Confused? In French, the word benjamin is used to denote the youngest person in a group. It stems from the bible story about Jacob and his youngest son, named (you guessed it) Benjamin. To describe a female who is the youngest member of a group, the French say benjamine

Connor – this isn’t exactly the same, but when spoken out loud Connor sounds perilously close to connard – which means dickhead or asshole in French. So any Connors hanging around tricky driving spots such as the Arc de Triomphe roundabout are going to spend a lot of time thinking that someone is calling their name in rather angry tones.

Nick – God help you if this is your name. In France niquer meant ‘to fuck’ and nique is one of the verb’s more common conjugations. Because French people tend to pronounce the letter ‘i’ as ‘ee’, if your name is Nick, it sounds like your name is actually ‘fuck’. We would suggest changing your name to ‘Nico’ – which is how the French shorten the name Nicolas. Good luck.

Graffiti in Paris reads 'Nik les agences & la gentrification' which translates as 'Fuck lettings agencies and gentrification'.
Graffiti in Paris reads ‘Nik les agences & la gentrification’ which translates as ‘Fuck lettings agencies and gentrification’. (Credit: Emma Pearson/The Local)

And not strictly a person’s name, but spare a thought for the British and Irish restaurant chain Zizzi – which is unlikely every to be able to expand its Italian restaurant offering to France as in French zizi is a very informal slang term for penis.

Do you know of any more boys’ names in English that mean something very different in French? Let us know and we’ll add them in.

Member comments

  1. Unfortunately Nick, when pronounced with a french accent sounds like the singular / familiar imperative of ‘niquer’.

    When I was a student at UBO In Brest in the mid-90s French students used to find it strange and amusing that anglophone students would invariably call me Nick rather than Nicholas (or as the French would have it Nicolas) and even more odd that I did not object. Back then it was very common to see ‘NTM’ scrawled across walls by vandals etc.

  2. Amused to find that my name, Peter, has gained an acute accent in the annuaire, so at least it’s pronounced properly. All our friends write it as ‘Piter’, which solves the problem. Unfortunately, my wife, Sally, or Sal for short, becomes ‘dirty’. Dirty farters, the pair of us!

  3. Lawrence, a boys name in English, sounds like a girl’s name in French (Laurence).
    The boys’ equivalent is Laurent (silent ‘t’) in French.

  4. came home from school saying some people say my name’s a rude word. But the funniest thing was when one of his maternelle friends spotted him in town one day & shouted ‘Hey Connor” & the kids mum slapped him for shouting out this rude word

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LIVING IN FRANCE

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

Strikes

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.

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