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Can Costner lead the revenge of France's much-mocked Kevins?

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
Can Costner lead the revenge of France's much-mocked Kevins?
US director Kevin Costner poses after being awarded Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres at the Cannes Film Festival in southern France, on May 19, 2024. Costner's success in the 1990s sparked a wave of popularity for the name Kevin in France. (Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP)

In 1990s France, amidst the Pierres and the Jean-Claudes, a Hollywood hero with all-American good looks inspired a new name craze.

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The era of the Kevin -- or Kev-een as the French pronounce it -- had arrived, ushered in by the passions unleashed by a moustachioed Kevin Costner in his epic directorial debut, "Dances with Wolves".

Suddenly, little Kevins were to be found the length and breadth of France.

But it wasn't all plain sailing for these young ambassadors of Americana.

As Kevin Costner, now aged 69, prepares for his much-anticipated comeback at the Cannes Film Festival, AFP looks at how his French namesakes went from hero to zero and back again:

Je m'appelle Kevin

Celtic in origin, hailing from the Irish name "Caoimhin" after a hermit monk who lived in a stone cell in a glacial valley, the Kevin craze was sparked by not one but two huge Hollywood films.

In 1990 two million French people flocked to see the antics of a young boy called Kevin battling to defend his family home from burglars in "Home Alone".

A year later, "Dances with Wolves", which scooped seven Oscars, topped the French box office, pulling in a whopping seven million viewers.

The impact on birth certificates was immediate -- that year Kevin was the most popular boy's name in France, chosen for just over 14,000 newborns, according to data compiled by AFP.

The wave continued with over 10,000 baby Kevins a year until 1995 when it dipped to some 8,000 and progressively dwindled thereafter.

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Mocked and shamed 

By the time the Kevins hit adolescence in the early 2000s, Costner's star power had faded and the name had become shrouded in stigma, associated with lower classes picking exotic-sounding names drawn from pop culture.

Sociologist Baptiste Coulmont studied the social determinism of French names by comparing the names with the childrens' exam grades.

Between 2012-2020 four percent of Kevins received the top "very good" grade for the baccalaureate exam taken at the end of high school, compared with 18 percent for the classic bourgeois name Augustin.

For director Kevin Fafournoux, who grew up in what he calls an "ordinary" family in central France and is making a documentary called "Save the Kevins", the name "spells redneck, illiterate, geek, annoying" for many in his country.

"All this has impacted my life and that of other Kevins, whether in terms of our self-confidence, professional credibility or in relationships," he says in its trailer.

In Germany, which also saw a wave of Kevins in the early 1990s, the negative stereotypes conferred on parents who give children exotic-sounding names from other cultures has a name: Kevinismus.

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"Kevin is not a name but a diagnosis," said one teacher scathingly in a 2009 article by Die Zeit newspaper about little Kevins, Chantals and Angelinas being labelled problem children.

Shedding the stigma

As the years pass, Kevins have become doctors, academics, politicians and much more -- and attitudes have shifted.

"There are tens of thousands of Kevins in France, they are everywhere in society and can no longer be associated with one background," Coulmont told The Guardian newspaper in an interview in 2022.

That year, two Kevins were elected to parliament for the far-right National Rally (RN).

"Will the Kevins finally have their revenge?" asked Le Point magazine.

The RN's president is himself a fresh-faced 28-year-old, who grew up in a high-rise housing estate on the outskirts of Paris. He also carries a name with clear American overtones: Jordan Bardella.

 

 

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