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The 9 boys' names that mean something very different in French

The Local France
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The 9 boys' names that mean something very different in French
Canadian actor Ryan Gosling who stars as 'Ken' in the Barbie movie. (Photo by Bridget BENNETT / AFP)

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?

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If your name is not a common one in France it's likely to get a bit of a mangling 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.

Ken - in the US, there are estimated to be over 200,000 men named Ken, not including Barbie's love interest of course. But in France, the word Ken is vulgar high-school speak that will get you some weird looks if spoken aloud in a respectable establishment.

It is the verlan of niquer, which means 'to fuck' and it carries just about the same meaning. Adolescents are most likely to use this term, so it might be similar to the English phrase 'to bang' or 'to smash'. You can also use it to describe being screwed over.

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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. There has even been a documentary film focused on rehabilitating the name and deconstructing stereotypes around it.

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.

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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 they are 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

READ MORE: The French baby names banned by law

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.

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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.

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Comments (8)

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Anonymous 2021/09/16 21:31
My son’s name is Bruce……..pronounced like “brousse”……….underbrush?
Anonymous 2020/09/04 22:07
What an insightful and amusing read xD
Anonymous 2020/09/01 22:59
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
Anonymous 2020/09/01 22:54
We moved to France when our Connor was 9 months old - so we had time to prepare for when he c
Anonymous 2020/09/01 22:54
We moved to France when our Connor was 9 months old - so we had time to prepare for when he c
Anonymous 2020/09/01 22:40
Lawrence, a boys name in English, sounds like a girl's name in French (Laurence). <br />The boys' equivalent is Laurent (silent 't') in French.
Anonymous 2020/09/01 21:48
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!
Anonymous 2020/09/01 15:03
Unfortunately Nick, when pronounced with a french accent sounds like the singular / familiar imperative of 'niquer'. <br /><br />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.
  • Anonymous 2021/12/03 14:49
    Duncan is unfortunately often pronounced as

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