Don’t ask Google, ask us: Why is France called France?

In this mini series, The Local answers common questions that comes up when you start typing questions with "France" or "the French" into the Google search engine.

Don’t ask Google, ask us: Why is France called France?
Photo: KOBU Agency / Unsplash

Why is France . . . called France?

What’s in a name? It turns out, in the case of France, quite a lot.

It comes from the Latin Francia which means ‘realm of the Franks’ and referred to a tribe who lived in what is now France during the Roman period. It is still known as Francia in Italian and Spanish, while Frankreich in German, Frankrijk in Dutch and Frankrike in Swedish all mean “Land/realm of the Franks”.

It is thought that ‘Franks’ comes from the Medieval Latin francus, which means free, exempt from service.

Informally, France is sometimes called l’Hexagone (the hexagon) in reference to the rough shape of metropolitan France – the country most people think of when they hear the name.

But it also has several overseas territories informally – and inaccurately these days – referred to as DOM-TOMs.

Collectively, all of France’s inhabited territories overseas – former colonies – are colloquially referred to as DROM-COM. They are home to 2.7 million people, around four percent of the French population.

READ ALSO COM, DOM-TOM and DROM: How to understand French overseas territories

Five former French colonies are officially overseas regions or departments – fully part of France and subject to French laws. 

These include the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique in the eastern Caribbean, French Guiana, a small country on the northeastern coast of South America and the tropical islands of La Réunion and Mayotte which are found in the Indian ocean.

In fact, the flight from Paris to Réunion is, technically, the longest domestic flight in the world. It’s also true to say that the sun never sets on France, and also offers a pub question along the lines of ‘Which European country has a border with Brazil?’.

Other French territories, known as Collectivité d’outre-mer (COM), are more autonomous and can pass their own laws, although some areas like defence are run from Paris. They include French Polynesia (which includes Tahiti), Wallis and Futuna, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy.

Each of these places has varying degrees of autonomy from Paris, but they remain heavily reliant on French subsidies.

READ ALSO ‘Confetti of an empire’: A look at France’s overseas territories

The collectivité outre-mer sui generis status of New Caledonia gives residents of the island the possibility to have both Caledonian and French citizenship. It also has its own armed forces. Residents recently narrowly rejected the idea of independence from France in a referendum.

In the past, the COM territories listed above were known as TOM territories.

The only French overseas territory still referred to under the TOM label are the uninhabited islands that make up the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. The only visitors are researchers working in scientific stations.


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LISTEN: Five things to know about France’s Fête de la musique

The one day a year where your neighbours cannot be mad at you for blasting the music, and where everyone across France gets their groove on - here is what you need to know about the Fête de la musique.

LISTEN: Five things to know about France's Fête de la musique

It is on the longest day of the year Fête de la musique (music festival) takes place every year on June 21st – no matter what the day of the week is. This year, it falls on a Tuesday.

This day is also the longest day of the year and the summer solstice, so music listeners can soak up lots of daylight while jamming to the band, DJ set, or orchestra playing on their street corner. Celebrations on the summer solstice aren’t specific to France – Nordic countries, where the sun doesn’t set on June 21st, also have their fair share of festivities in the daylight.

It was invented by an American – The concept came about back in the 70s when American musician Joel Cohen was working as a music producer for French National Radio (France Musique).

He came up with the idea of a day full of music to celebrate the solstices, originally proposing “Saturnales de la Musique” which would be celebrated on both June 21st and December 21st with a special musical program broadcast all night long.

His idea for the June festival did eventually catch on (although December 21st is not a festival day in France) and that’s how Fête de la musique as we know it was born,

It’s all over France…and the world – Fête de la musique is celebrated all over France, from small towns to large cities.

In 2019, over 10 million people took part, and depending on where you go, it does have the potential to get a bit rowdy.

It has also gone global, and over 100 countries celebrate it. It started being exported out of France as early as in 1985, during the “European Year of Music.” Then, in 1997, several other European cities signed onto a charter to be ‘partners of the European Music Festival.’ In the United States, several cities also take part, calling it “Make Music Day.”

It has become such a big deal that at one point in 1998 a postage stamp was dedicated to it, right alongside stamps for the Olympic Games and the Queen of England. 

It’s on the French calendar, but not a public holiday – In 1982 the then-Culture Minister Jack Lang, launched the first official edition of the Fête de la Musique in France, with the help of Maurice Fleuret.

The French government got behind the idea and made it an official event and it’s been popular ever since.

That being said, even though the event is marked on French calendars, it is not a jour férié, so you don’t get the day off of work sadly.

Professionals and amateurs alike – Fête de la musique is not just for professional musicians – it is truly a democratised event where anyone and everyone can get involved.

Though a lot of big name musicians take advantage of the day to plan concerts or symphonies, you’ll still see plenty of amateur musicians out on the streets just playing their instruments or singing. You might even see people just set up a big speaker and blast whatever music they feel like listening to.

The goal of the day is to promote the arts, and give everyone dedicated time to appreciate music.

If you’re looking to figure out where and how to celebrate, you can go to this website to see which events are planned.