Ooh La La: French Names for Girls

Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ve heard that the Jolie-Pitt twins have arrived, and have been named Knox Leon and Vivienne Marcheline.

Our recent Name of the Day post on Etienne suggests that there’s little hope of a revival for most French-flavored boys’ names, at least in the first spot. But how about the girls?

Read on for a discussion of past French names in favor in the US, and some très chic, très français ideas for a nom de fille today.

Vivienne is, of course, likely to re-enter the Top 1000 in the next year or two. But parents have been borrowing inspiration from the ever so fashionable French for generations. These Top 100 monikers al charted between 1880 and 1939:

  • Blanche
  • Elaine
  • Genevieve
  • Jacqueline
  • Josephine
  • Louise
  • Lucille
  • Marguerite
  • Pauline

Most remained in use, and many climbed the charts during the Baby Boom. They were joined by:

  • Diane
  • Joanne
  • Michelle
  • Renee
  • Suzanne
  • Valerie

Modern mamas might wear one of these names, but other French-inspired favorites from 1970 onwards include:

  • Danielle
  • Denise
  • Nicole
  • Stephanie

And current classrooms are filled with girls called:

  • Claire
  • Gabrielle, the given name of Coco Chanel
  • Madeline, and the even more deliciously French Madeleine

So what’s next, besides Vivienne? Here are a few to watch:

  • Solange, a French shepherdess who became a saint back in the 9th century. Currently unranked in the US. The name derives from the Latin term for “religious,” and some are tempted to break this down to sol – sun – and ange – angel – though that’s etymologically incorrect.
  • Chantal, a place name and saint’s surname that gets some lift from her similarity to chant, the French word for song. Plus, this choice is far more subtle than naming your daughter Chanel. While Chantal did not rank in the US Top 1000 last year, Chanel came in at #879. Don’t go there!
  • Severine, pronounced say vuh REEN, this name comes from an old Latin family name, Severinus. While Severus might be a bit too Harry Potter for your son, this is an interesting feminization of a rarely heard name. She’s unranked in the US.
  • Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris has seen her name rise in popularity in earlier generations. Today she stands at a familiar, but not terribly common #344.
  • Celeste, like Genevieve, she’s quite familiar, but reasonably underused at #354.
  • Oceane, yup, the French world is not immune to the lure of nature names. We love the sound of this one – o say AHN – but fear she’d have to answer to plain old Ocean. Neither is in the Top 1000 here, but Oceane is big on the other side of the sea, and in Quebec.
  • Francoise, the French feminine form of Francis seems like a long shot at first, and indeed she’s not in the US Top 1000. But with the Italian Francesca at #477 and the throwback Frances at #825, it’s an interesting option with the exotic pronunciation frahn SWAHZ. Plus, it literally means “from France.”
  • Mireille, the heroine of Pierre Capretz’ French in Action series, she’s taught countless American students to parlez français. While the spelling is tricky, the sound – mee RAY – is appealing and simple. She was unranked as of 2007.
  • Anais, a well known option thanks to writer Anais Nin, this variant of Anna is pronounced ah nah EES, thought we’ve met a modern bearer of the name who pared it down to ah NEES, which seems easier to wear. She ranked #906 in 2007.
  • Josephine, one of the earlier Gallic imports, she’s back in a big way among the fashionable and today stands at #224. It’s impossible to say her name without thinking of Napoleon.
  • Lilou, a white hot French moniker related to Lily and Liliane. Pronounced LEE loo, she’s unranked in the US. We think she’s a bit too flimsy to bestow independently, but could be a fabulous nickname alternative for Lillian.
  • Maelys, another current favorite in the Francophone world. It’s a feminization of Mael, a 5th century Breton saint. The sound – MAH eh liss – is tricky in English, and she’s unranked in the US. MaelleMAH el – is also sometimes heard.
  • Eulalie, the French version of Eulalia, yet another saint, has an engaging, spirited feel and offers the nickname Lally. She’s unranked in the US.
  • Capucine, actually a botanical choice, referring to the nasturtium. In the US, she’d inevitably be confused for a cup of strong coffee with frothy milk. It’s also doubtful that the sound – kah pu SEEN – would be easily embraced. But it’s an interesting floral-flair option, especially for the middle spot. Capucine is unranked in the US.
  • Elodie, one that works in English! The mellifluous Elodie is – what else – a saint’s name, more commonly written as Alodia. She’s unranked in the US, but thanks to the easy nickname option Ellie, wouldn’t be too much for an American girl to wear.
  • Sidonie, a name that would almost inevitably be confused with Sidney, is actually based on an old Latin name referring to the city of Sidon, in Phoenicia. Despite her similarity to the two-syllable gender-spanning choice, we think Sidonie could work. She’s unranked in the US.
  • Noemie, a French twist on Naomi, strikes us as one of the most appealing possibilities on our list. We’ve also seen Noemi, but the “ie” ending makes this a smidge more distinct than her familiar cousin. Technically, she’s no ay MEE, but we’d favor a toned-down sound for the States – no eh MEE. Noemie is unranked in the US, but Noemi charts at #636.
  • Salome, a well-known Biblical bad girl, this moniker is redeemed by the presence of a second Salome in the New Testament. (Salome #2 witnesses the crucifixion.) Plus, her name derives from the Hebrew word shalom, or peace. The sound – sah LO may – is distinctive, interesting, and yes, French. Or at least popular in France. Salome is unranked in the US.

Throughout our list, you’ll note that we’ve declined to use diacritical marks, though we’ve preserved the pronunciations as intended in French, unless otherwise noted. Why? Any maman considering a French appellation for her darling daughter should know that the umlaut, cedilla and other accents are not acknowledged in American English. They won’t appear on her birth certificate or most other identifying documents.

Some names suffer without them – it’s tough to tell if Oceane is French-fried or simply misspelled. Others fare just fine. It’s one more thing to consider when considering these pretty, but perhaps tongue-challenging, appellations.


  1. Shannon says

    My husband suggested Espérance recently. I’m an Anglophone and can’t see myself getting my mouth around such a French name consistently. We’re in a partly Anglo, partly Franco area, and I think it would throw people off; they would expect her to speak French. French names that have been Anglicized for a long time (like Josephine or Sebastian) would be fine, but I don’t think I would do a purely French name justice.

    • appellationmountain says

      It’s a lovely name, but I think I know what you mean. My husband’s family is from Poland, so we considered using Polish given names at one point, but then I heard them said in Polish – and realized they weren’t really the same names. And I would never really get it right – which is tolerable with the names of cousins, etc., but not so much with your own child’s name.

  2. Frenchy says

    Lalla, Nouveau is a very silly name for a girl (or for a boy for that matter). Your kid will never be able to go to France without being ridiculed, would you call your child Tuperware or Bowl ? If you were living in France, the government would refuse to register this name (thanks god we have laws to protect children from ignorant parents). Please just pick up an Anglo name instead of inventing a name from a language or a culture you obviously don’t understand.

  3. SantaBarbaraSusie says

    Seventeen years ago (this June!), I named my darling daughter Arielle Jacqueline.
    Unfortunately, both my husband and I were working very hard on our respective careers: 55-60 hour weeks! We also were not around any little children- I was having the first grand child in my family and his two nieces and nephews lived across the country. So, we were unaware of “The Little Mermaid” movie by Disney.
    So many people ask us if we named our daughter after this. It astonished us that anyone would think we named her after a cartoon ! Plus, most people pronounce it “AIR-e-el”, where as it is pronounced “R-E-L”. They also mispronounce Jacqueline as “Jack-O-Lynn” as it is ” Zhak-Leen” (as in ‘queen’!).
    As opposed to naming her after a cartoon, we chose both names because we find them feminine and elegant- and, French as I am Basque! Important to our decision, Arielle (or sometimes, Ariel) is one of the four archangels along with Gabriel. They are the highest level angels. So basically we chose it for it’s femininity, uniqueness and biblical meaning. Arielle is also a character in Shakespeare’s last comedy, “The Tempest”.
    It’s just so annoying that people assume we chose the name for such a ridiculous reason, rather than for all the careful thought and consideration we put into it!

  4. Sarah says

    We would have used the nickname Theo but it ended up being a little girl. So now we have a lovely Mirabelle to complement Eloise. Thanks for the feedback :-)

  5. Shannon says

    I think that the idea that you can’t use a French name with no connection to France is kind of silly. We Americans have a really large connection to France, she’s called Lady Liberty 😉 So, there ya go.

  6. says

    My little Franco-American daughter is named Eloise. And for number 2 we’re thinking Mirabelle (for a girl) or Theodore (for a boy). Do you think those go well together? My daughter has such a huge personality, we need something that stands its own and sounds consistent.

    • says

      Elodie and Mirabelle are gorgeous together! I like both names separately, but I also think they are evenly matched – they sound like sisters. For a boy, I adore Theodore – he’s been on my short list, too. Would you use a nn – Theo/Teddy – or would he be Theodore?

  7. Ally says

    I’m just throwing this out there. I’m only 13 but i love french names and so i love just looking at the different ones there are. But I have this name that I’m in love with. I don’t think it’s french and I don’t think it’s ever been used before. It’s Envy. I just need opinions about this name because I plan on naming my first baby girl this when I get older of course. i just want to know if this name is too flashy or because Envy’s an actual word but i do think it’s really pretty for a girl name. Maybe too creative? Please reply and leave your opinions posted. Thanks![:

    • appellationmountain says

      Envy does have an attractive sound, and word names are very current. But I think Envy crosses the line because of her meaning. Names like Sailor, Fern, Emerald, and Cadence all started out unusual, but their meanings were positive. It is tough to put a positive spin on Envy.

      Then again, standards change. I thought Sailor was absurd when I first heard it, and now I rather like it. The same is true of Emerald, which now sounds less Wizard of Oz, more Ruby’s cousin. In a decade or more when you have your first child, Envy might not sound unwearable.

      But something tells me that two things will happen. First, envy is one of the seven deadly sins – so I think she’s likely to always seem like an outrageous choice. Second, there are names that share Envy’s sounds: Aven, Evanie. But those sounds are shared with lots of names that are VERY popular right now, like Ava and Avery. Chances are that, as those names fade, Envy will also sound less like an original but attractive choice and her word qualities will be even more of an issue.

  8. says

    I actually picked Stephanie partly because it was French (but would also sound good and look good without the accent on the first e. The French pronunciation is STAY-phanie, roughly), partly for Stevie Nicks who I adore and admire and partly because it would be JUST common enough for her to find keychains and other personalized stuff with her name on it, but NOT common enough for there to be more than one Stephanie in her school 😉 And nicknames vary by age. As a toddler, she called herself Anie (because that’s what she could manage to pronounce of her name – think Stephanie minus the Steph for the sound). As a girl on the brink of Jr High, she goes by Steph. I was hoping to call her Stevie as a nickname but she…just doesn’t look like a Stevie (maybe as an adult!!)

    • appellationmountain says

      To be honest, I don’t love it. But I think that’s because it has picked up the tiniest bit of a pejorative tone, thanks to the phrase “nouveau riche.” I use the phrase “nouveau names” to describe choices like Jayden. I’m probably hypersensitive to that use …

      I think Nouvel has some serious possibility, and is very much overlooked. It is Shiloh Jolie-Pitt’s middle name, in homage to the celebrated architect Jean Nouvel. Nouvelle is the feminine form of nouveau, as in “nouvelle cuisine.” Nouvel is an alternate masculine form, used if the noun starts with a vowel. Nouvelle is too fussy for my tastes, but I like Nouvel for a girl – we’re used to seeing -el endings as feminine, like Mariel and Laurel. And with the “ou” sound so current – Ruby, Louisa, Lula, etc. – I think she’d fit in, too.

      Nouvel also reminds me of one of my favorite foreign-language-word-name choices, also French: Ciel, sky.

      I don’t think Nouveau is impossible to wear, and in the middle spot, I’d say “why not?”

  9. camilla says

    What bliss this discussion is! I’ve always adored french names – eg Agathe, Ludivine, Mathilde, Aude. My cousin is married to a frenchwoman and they have two fabulous girls (Zoe and Anais). I quizzed them about their friends’ names recently and two stood out: Clemence and, truly, Prune! Prune said with an authentic Gallic ‘r’ is really something.

  10. says

    Ooooo, love some of these, particularly in the last section. I’m really intrigued by the idea of using Piaf as a first name, but maybe that’s just because I’m a huge Edith Piaf fan.

  11. Mom98052 says

    I’m gonna name my unborn daughter something that means “to sing/singing” in chinese. We live in the USA so for convenience we want to add a name that is easy for english speakers. The english name ideally would carry the chinese meaning, otherwise we’d consider if the chinese phonetics will mimic nicely in a decent english spelled name.

    I took french before and I love the sound of “chansant/chanter”. Thanks to a poster above for pointing out Chantelle in the US is very widely used, so it is out for us. I just found on the web the names of Chante/Chantee. However, one english baby website says Chante due to its sounding exactly like the past tense of Chanter the verb, people in France don’t use it. Nevertheless, it is not my goal to have a name that French people use, but I like Chante because it sounds nice, reads/spells easy, and translates perfectly from our chinese name. Do you have any ideas for us?

    Please help! ***thanks***

    CC from Seattle

    • appellationmountain says

      Well … I’m not sure that either Chante or Chantee would work, if your goal is to make the name easy for English speakers to pronounce. I think the names would most likely be pronounced CHANT, or maybe chan TEE, not shahn TAY. Since we don’t use diacritical marks in the US, you can’t even throw in an accent mark to help ease the confusion.

      They also stray quite close to Shante and company – newly minted names from the 1970s and 1980s, especially popular with African American parents. Latoya and Tamika probably had a BFF called Shante. So if you DO get the correct pronunciation, you probably won’t have people thinking of Paris.

      Chantelle and Chantal aren’t exactly “widely used.” Chantelle ranked in the US Top 1000 between the 1970s and 1990s, but most years, she hovered around the 900s – meaning just a handful of girls received the name. Chantal was slightly more popular – but only slightly.

      That’s to your advantage, though – Chantal and Chantelle are easy for Americans to pronounce, and we’re vaguely familiar with the names. So you get unusual and distinctive, without being a tongue-twister.

      Truly, since your goal is to have an easy spelling that relates to the word song, I think you’re best off with Chantal.

      A few other options that come to mind are Aria and Lyric. I’d avoid Cadence, Piper, and Harmony – too popular for your tastes, I think, though they’re great names. You might consider something daring, like Minuet or Rhapsody – another reader named her daughter Emmeline Rhapsody – she’s featured in the Name Stories section. There’s also Lyra, which relates to the word “lyre” – but again, appears to be on the rise.

      I do keep going back to Chantal. It’s a neat name, and it fits your criteria perfectly. Plus, she was never very popular and she’s showing no signs of a revival – so your daughter probably would have a truly distinctive name.

      If you decide to go with Chante, just be prepared to correct others’ pronunciations. (There’s nothing wrong with that. But some parents do get really upset.)

      Best wishes!

  12. Amy says

    I don’t know, I think it’s kind of tacky to choose a french name if you have no french heritage or connection to France (i.e., if neither of the parents are French). It’s almost as if people are trying really hard to be cosmopolitan or sophisticated. I’m French and my husband is English, and we’ll use a French name, but I find it really funny when Americans use very French names, and have no connections to France.

    • appellationmountain says

      I know what you mean – I tend to have the same initial reaction to any name that feels imported without a good story. Except that there’s more than one way to have a connection to a place, and names take on additional meanings as they’re used. So borrowing Maelys if you’ve never set foot in France is a bit much. But Madeleine is a beloved book character, and so mainstream she doesn’t seem forced at all. And sometimes a choice honors a saint, a friend, a trip.

      I wouldn’t be surprised to meet a non-French Genevieve, but a non-Russian Svetlana? An Ingrid or Astrid who wasn’t blonde with blue eyes? A Naimh whose parents didn’t have any connection to Ireland? I’m not sure if there’s a good rule of thumb, but some names just feel more portable, less tethered to their origins.

      • JNE says

        I’ve run into two Ingrids in the past year (a name I really like a lot and was on my longish list with my daughter), and neither was nordic-looking really – one was brunette, the other was a red-head. (But I hear you, I love Svetlana, but would feel like the name would wear as conspicuous on a child of mine.)

        • appellationmountain says

          That’s a fair point – my siblings and I actually are 1/4 Swedish – but none of us are blonde. And I would have thoroughly enjoyed being an Ingrid.

  13. kristine says

    I’ve always loved the name Leroux, though I’ve never seen it used – just a street name in the town where I live! I would love to name a daughter Francis Leroux.

    • appellationmountain says

      It’s very cool in the middle spot, Kristine! I know a Loire, but she tells me that everyone calls her Lori. Shame – Loire is quite the cool name, too.

      • rachel says

        One of my favorite French names is Esme, as in For Esme with Love and Squalor, the JD Salinger short story. It is beautiful and feminine and works well for a middle name. It, too, has a history of being more popular in Scotland than the rest of the UK.

        And incidentally, I also adore the name Josephine. I love the antique-y/grandmama names on little ones. And an added bonus for me would be the nickname Posey.

        • appellationmountain says

          I love Posey as a nn from Josephine! Esme is great, too. I’ve met two little Esmes, and the name wears quite well.

  14. Juliet says

    LOL Chantal has to be my equivalent of Sophia or something else in the top 10 in the US. I cannot tell you how many I’ve come across. I like French names a lot, though I do tend avoid them as there are a lot of French names used in my country. Chantal/Chantelle/Chanel are all REALLY popular. This is just one of the reasons why I prefer Celtic names. Out of this list, there were a few that I liked , though most weren’t my taste as they are a bit dated for me.The ones I do liked are either too generic for me. The one I would seriously consider using was Elodie. Genevieve is sweet, but I know one & I dislike -Jen names. Maybe Vivi or Gigi as a nickname

    • appellationmountain says

      I’m not sure about nicknames in French-speaking languages, but I’m guessing Lainey/Laney and Lola are the most obvious choices in the US. She’s usually considered a French version of Iolanthe or Yolanda, names related to the violet. Yolanda diminutives include Yoli and Yola, but I can’t see either of those wearing well on an American girl circa 2010.

  15. Janelle says

    Can I just throw out my name as a thought?

    I’ve had debate by real French people over whether or not Janelle is actually French or a Frenchified version of Jane. But either way it has gotten nothing but compliments. And I love all the variant nicknames you can pull out:

    Ellie, Nelly, Jane, Jana…

  16. SophieGray says

    Ooh.. I adore French names — they are to die for! I have a mainly French heritage, so quite a few of these names feature in my combos; with Maelys, Maelle, Genevieve (only the French prn, as Lola expressed!); Elodie & Lilou currently showing. I also like Anais, but its my mn, so unusable.
    You forgot Anaelle! (ah-NAH-elle), which is one of my all time favorite French girls!

  17. Mia says

    All these names are a lot fresher than Michelle, Danielle, Nicole, and so on.

    Some other names that I saw on the Top 100 for France (2006) that I liked were Clemence, Amandine, and Anaelle.

  18. appellationmountain says

    Hi Sherb – glad you found your way here!

    Wow – I really love Elodie. If you don’t mind, I’ll do a specific post to get reactions – I’m afraid this thread is too old to get you much in the way of feedback.

    And thanks for the intel on the names of the moment in France. I’ll admit, I love Lilou. Except it seems too childish to wear well into adulthood. I’ve heard it is sometimes used as a nickname for Liliane – that seems like a kinder choice for a daughter who might eventually want to be a brain surgeon or an attorney. :)

  19. sherb says

    This is a great site! I’m desperately trying to find a French name for baby girl, with only a few weeks left, so this post was really of interest to me! We live in France now but plan to move back to North America in a couple of years. I’d love a French name for baby girl. Elodie is the best one we’ve come up with that we think works well in both languages but is also distinctly French (and goes well with our very simple, very anglophone last name). Still, it’s been and gone here in France (though seemingly on the rise in Quebec) and still obscure in English-speaking North America. I love the nickname Ellie, and just can’t decide. I thought I’d try posting here for opinions. How French is too French, and how much does it matter whether a name has the “air du temps” in either language? Would little Elodie spend her life saying “no, it’s not Melodie”. Would No

  20. Emmy Jo says

    Some of these make great alternatives for overused names. I think Elodie is an appealing choice for those in love with Emily, and Mireille could easily replace Marie in the middle name slot. I also love Josephine, Marguerite (yes, a bit old-fashioned), and Noemi (though I do prefer Naomi). Salome strikes me as beautiful and exotic, though I’m afraid a little Salome might be called Salami by her peers!

  21. youcantcallitit says

    Great minds, Abby, great minds…

    I think Elodie has real possibilities to take off here, and is already fairly popular in England. Noemie, Celeste, and Mireille are gorgeous, as is Sidonie, which is such a beautiful alternative to the ever present Sydney. I’d also like to see Diane and Jacqueline make a comeback.

    The only name I don’t see resurrecting is Salome. The image of John the Baptist’s head on a plate looms a little to heavy for me.

  22. Unknown says

    Wow! I absolutely adore French names. I don’t know but the French always seem to come up with the best names. I’m so thrilled with Maelys, Mireille, Anais and Eulalie. They are so stunningly beautiful!!

  23. !!!DirtyHippy!!! says

    Some interesting ideas on that list that I hadn’t considered . . . Mireille is absolutely beautiful and Maelys and Maelle have that Maren/Carys appeal about them. I think Elodie is stunning and Sidonie kicks Sydney’s behind.

  24. Another says

    I was going to bring you that Leeloo tidbit. Lola acted before I did. Oh well. One of my favorites, Celeste, was on that list. Thanks for including it.

  25. Lola says

    It’s alright, I’m happy she’s as popualr as she is but really don’t want her to reach her previous heights! My Josephine was named for her Great Auntie Josephine , who was named so because her father was a Joseph (well, J

  26. appellationmountain says

    BTW, I *adore* Josephine and have a great-grandfather Joseph I’d be happy to honor with the name. But we’ll never have enough children to get that far down our list. I think. 😉

  27. appellationmountain says

    Right you are, Lola! My favorite ER character ever was Elizabeth Corday, and in real life she is Alex Kingston and *does* have a Salome Violetta!

    Interesting to hear that Maelys and Maelle are popping up as middle name choices.

    I’ve heard the Leeloo connection mentioned but didn’t think much of it – is that *really* behind the rise in France? That’s wild! My French isn’t good enough to navigate any of the baby name sites with any skill, but it looks like you’re right, it does appear to have come out of nowhere after the movie’s release in 1997 … I’m speechless!

  28. Lola says

    *swoon*! As the mother of a Josephine, I applaud this day’s post! I love French names, booth for their generally light sound and the fact that they go with my very Scottish surname (Ancestrally had huge ties to the French church). I adore Capucine and before coffee, I think monkey (which works for me, my kids are monkeys, climbing everything!) and Eulalie. Genevieve is a family name for me but she died badly (whooping cough, aged 2) and I hate the English pronunciation, so it’ll never be used by me. Why do I think there’s a celebrity baby Salome Violetta? Alex Kingston, perhaps (I’m too lazy right now to dig myself)? Blanche is starting to show up in my toying with names and I keep adding and subtracting Marguerite. I love the idea of Daisy as a nickname but can’t decide if I like Marguerite enough. It’s pretty but… I don’t know.

    And did you know that Lilou is a blantant rip off from a movie? “The Fifth Element” Milla Jovovich was Leeloo (for short, her full name was “Leeloo Minai Lekarariba-Laminai-Tchai Ekbat De Sebat” according to the subtitles on my DVD copy). I thin it’s a cute sound but as you said, ‘flimsy’ for standalone use.

    And just a note, I’m starting to see Maelle and Maelys show up in combos online, as a middle name.


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