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FRENCH LANGUAGE

REVEALED: These are France’s most popular baby names

Emma and Gabriel are no longer the most common baby names in France, with two new names emerging to claim the top spot.

REVEALED: These are France's most popular baby names
Photo: Martin BUREAU / AFP.

Jade was the most popular girls’ name in 2020, according to the top ten list published by French national research institute Insee on Thursday. A total of 3,814 Jades were born in France last year, just three more than were given the name Louise.

Emma had previously held the crown as the most popular girls’ name every year since 2016.

There was another upset among the boys, with Léo taking the crown in 2020, after Gabriel had been the most popular name since 2015. Gabriel remains the second most chosen boys’ name, with Raphaël, Arthur and Louis not far behind.

Exactly 4,496 Léos entered the world in France last year.

Image: Insee.

While the orders have changed, the names which feature on the top ten list are similar to last year’s stats. In fact, all of the same boys’ names feature in the top ten, while the only change among the girls was Mia replacing the almost identical Mila.

Regional variation

Behind these lists, there is a significant degree of regional variation. Jade and Louise were each the most popular girls’ name in five of France’s thirteen metropolitan regions. However, Lina was more popular in Ile-de-France and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, and Corsicans preferred Ghjulia.

READ ALSO How France’s ‘most embarrassing’ baby name doesn’t actually exist

There was slightly less variation in boys’ names, with Léo coming out on top in eight regions. But Arthur was the most popular given name in Brittany, Raphaël in Normandy, Adam in Ile-de-France, and people in Corsica again stood out by opting for Andria above all other names.

The most popular names from recent years represent a big departure from traditional French names. Insee’s data allows us to consult the most popular names for every year since 1900.

Counting the last 100 years since 1920, Marie is by far the most popular girls’ name, even if it hasn’t topped an annual list since 1958. Among boys’ names, Jean has been the most common, claiming the top spot every year from 1920-1957.

Names like Marie and Emma have been incredibly consistent in their pomp, but there have been a number of anomalies down the years, like the time in the 1990s when the very un-French-sounding Kevin exploded all across France thanks to a couple of popular American actors.

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FRENCH LANGUAGE

Revealed: The simple trick to get the gender of French nouns (mostly) right

The le, the la and the l’ugly - for anyone learning the language French nouns can be a nightmare to master, but there is a technique that can make it simpler. Although we're not promising that there are no exceptions.

Revealed: The simple trick to get the gender of French nouns (mostly) right

Unlike German, which has been developed over centuries by Germans and is therefore logical, there appears to be little in the way of rhyme or reason to whether French nouns are masculine (le / un), or feminine (la / une).

Anglophones find it endlessly hilarious that words like bite (a slang term for penis) are feminine while breasts and vagina are both masculine (le sein, le vagin) but French people don’t really get the joke, because they don’t see masculine or feminine in grammar terms as having anything to do with men, women, sex or gender.

Instead, it’s really more to do with the construction of the word and its spelling, which is where the ’80 percent trick’ comes in . . . 

Rules – what are rules?

Proof that French nouns don’t follow sensible rules comes with the fact that the noun feminism is masculine (le féminisme), and the noun masculinity is feminine (la masculinité).

Meanwhile, hoary old guardians of the French language, the Académie française, ruled that Covid (the word) is feminine (la covid) because it’s an illness (une maladie). But dictionaries Le Larousse and Le Robert list it as masculine (le covid) because it’s a virus (un virus). If the gatekeepers of French cannot agree, and if the genders of the nouns themselves don’t necessarily make complete sense, what hope is there for the rest of us?

And don’t get us started on synonyms – for example it’s une chaise (a chair – feminine) but un fauteuil (an armchair – masculine). 

The thing is, gender really does matter in the French language. The gender of a noun (whether it’s a le or la word) influences any related pronouns, adjectives and verbs … and it even completely changes the meaning of some words.

Adjectives must agree

Adjectives in French conform to the gender and the quantity of the noun – a masculine plural noun needs a masculine plural adjective. Another bit that makes sense, right?

Most follow a regular pattern – if the masculine adjective ends with the letter –c (blanc / blancs), then the feminine ending is –che (blanche / blanches). An –f ending to a masculine adjective becomes –ve in the feminine. A masculine adjective ending with –eux leads to a feminine adjective ending of –euse.

Except these…

And then there are those well-known, often-used adjectives that follow rules entirely of their own making. We give you:

Beautiful: beau, bel, belle, beaux, belles

New: nouveau, nouvel, nouvelle, nouveaux, nouvelles

Old: vieux, vieil, vieille, vieux, vieilles

You just have to learn them. Sorry.

Gender critical

Here are just a few examples of how the gender of a word changes what it is. Mi-temps (masculine) means part-time, as in part-time job; mi-temps (feminine) means halftime in sport. La physique is the science; le physique refers to someone’s body shape. La somme – when it’s not the place in northern France – is the total sum of, for example, money; le somme is a nap, or 40 winks.

Places and animals

But there are some rules that are (almost) hard and fast.

Most place names are masculine. Except those places that end with the letter e – they are usually feminine. Apart from a few, such as…

  • le Mexique (Mexico)
  • le Bélize (Belize)
  • le Mozambique (Mozambique)
  • le Zaïre (Zaire)
  • le Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe)

If you’re talking about animals, the advice is to go with the sex of the animal you’re discussing – unless you’re talking about, for example, a mouse (la souris, all the time) or a horse (le cheval)

Derivatives

Nouns that derive from verbs – they usually end with eur, like l’aspirateur or l’ordinateur – are masculine. 

But nouns that come from adjectives that also usually end with eur, like la largeur, are feminine.

Gender reveal

But don’t throw those French books away just yet. Before you get completely downhearted and set out to learn Spanish instead, there is a trick that means you’ll be right well over half the time.

It’s all to do with endings. According to a study by linguists at Canada’s McGill University, the end of a French noun gives away its gender in at least 80 percent of cases.

The 80 percent trick

Treat words that end in -e or -ion as feminine … Except those that end in -age, -ege, -é, or -isme (these are endings that indicate masculine words).

The rest of them – especially those that end with a consonant – are masculine. Apart from the exceptions, obviously.

Here is that McGill list in full – and if you learn all these, the Canadians promise that you will be right 90 percent of the time. That’s a better record than most actual French people,according to a 2018 study. 

Typical masculine noun endings:

  • -an, -and, -ant, -ent, -in, -int, -om, -ond, -ont, -on (but not after s/c)
  • -eau, -au, -aud, -aut, -o, -os, -ot
  • -ai, -ais, -ait, -es, -et
  • -ou, -out, -out, -oux
  • -i, -il, -it, -is, -y
  • -at, -as, -ois, -oit
  • -u, -us, -ut, -eu
  • -er, -é after c
  • -age, -ege, – ème, -ome, -aume, -isme
  • -as, -is, -os, -us, -ex
  • -it, -est
  • -al, -el, -il, -ol, -eul, -all
  • -if, -ef
  •  -ac, -ic, -oc, -uc
  • -am, -um, -en
  • -air, -er, -erf, -ert, -ar, -arc, -ars, -art, -our, -ours, -or, -ord, -ors, -ort, -ir, -oir, -eur
  • (if animate)
  • -ail, -eil, -euil, -ueil
  • -ing

Typical feminine noun endings:

  •  -aie, -oue, -eue, -ion, -te, – ée, -ie, -ue
  • -asse, -ace, -esse, -ece, -aisse, -isse/-ice, -ousse, -ance, -anse, -ence, -once
  •  -enne, -onne, -une, -ine, -aine, -eine, -erne
  • -ande, -ende, -onde, -ade, -ude, -arde, -orde
  • -euse, -ouse, -ase, -aise, -ese, -oise, -ise, -yse, -ose, -use
  •  -ache, -iche, -eche, -oche, -uche, -ouche, -anche
  • -ave, -eve, -ive
  •  -iere, -ure, -eure
  • -ette, -ete, – ête, -atte, -otte, -oute, -orte, -ante, -ente, -inte, -onte
  • -alle, -elle, -ille, -olle
  • -aille, -eille, -ouille
  • -appe, -ampe, -ombe
  • -igue

See? Simple! 

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