Image via Wikipedia
He’s a sly fox, so is it any wonder he won the first January name narrow down?

Thanks to Jennifer for suggesting Reynard as our Baby Name of the Day.

If you’re sure and certain that renard is French for fox, well, that’s true. But lest you dismiss Reynard as a cousin for Ciel and other foreign word nature names, have I got a story for you.

Back in the day, the French word for fox was goupil. Except foxes were a big hassle for farmers. Just saying goupil was considered bad luck – an invitation for the pesky creatures to shop your livestock.

Reynard started out as an unrelated given name. He comes from Germanic elements, but there’s some debate about his precise origins. You’ll find meanings ranging from advice/counsel and strength to clever and resourceful.

Regardless of his meaning, at some point before the twelfth century, Reynard became the name of a popular figure in folklore – a crafty fox.

In one early story, the fox is summoned to the court of King Leo, the lion, to answer charges pressed by Ysengrin, the wolf. Another has Reynard faking his own death and taking revenge on the enemies who attend his funeral. The stories are thinly veiled commentaries on contemporary society. Reynard’s role is that of the hero, and the common man.

He’s recorded in Latin, German, and French in the twelfth century, in Alsace, Paris, and Ghent, among other places. But none of them seems to be new; instead, they’re all written versions of an oral tradition that is almost certainly older.

By the thirteenth century, the re-telling of Reynard’s adventures became so well-known that the French word for fox changed entirely, from goupil to renard.

We’ve been adapting and re-telling Reynard’s story along the way, in a nineteenth century novel and 1980s pop music. He appeared in beverage advertisements in the 1920s and in a modern art installation in a park in Amsterdam just recently.

But the most astounding re-use of Reynard is downright ugly. In 1937, an anti-Semitic children’s story was published in Dutch, adding a Jewish rhinoceros to the cast of characters. Reynard kills all of the rhinos. It was published as a book and made into a movie – a sinister re-use of a folk hero.

Reynardine sounds like a feminine form, but instead it is the title of an English or Irish ballad, one printed in the early part of the nineteenth century, and known throughout the US, too. The name changes dramatically – he’s Randal in some places. And while he isn’t an actual fox, he’s a seducer of innocent young women with teeth that “brightly shine.”

Despite the folk tale’s enduring qualities, Reynard has seen little use as a given name. The Normans brought him to England, but he never really caught on. He’s more often seen as a surname – almost certainly related to the animal name, a nod to an ancestor considered cunning.

While Bernard and the regal Richard are out of favor these days, Ray is ahead of the curve. This makes Reynard a mixed set – his first syllable sounds trend-setting; his second, not ready for revival. Still, he’d easily shorten to Rey, an appealing appellation.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

You May Also Like:

What do you think?


  1. I like Reynard, and it reminds me of another uncommon and old name in my family: Reynold. I don’t know of a connection between the two, but that’s another name I’d love to see come back a bit.

    Rey, with it’s slightly softer vowel sound, is more appealing to me than Ray, and I like the connection to the Spanish word for “King.”

  2. Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society books have a Reynard among the main characters–along with Kate, Constance, and George “Sticky” Washington. Reynard, Kate and Constance, especially, are appealling enough to give their names a boost for me.

  3. Hooray for Reynard! Is it silly that I suggested the name in honor of my cat? He has foxy coloring. haha!

  4. My dad’s name is Richard Gerard, I’m not really a fan of either name but Reynard would be a cool way to honor him. I’ve also considered Dickon which is a diminutive of Richard and has been a favorite of mine since I read The Secret Garden.

    We also had a dog named Rainer growing up and I’ve always liked the name. I love that Reynard has an interesting history and what a cool etymology for the word renard! Reminds me a lot of the story behind the word tuxedo.

    1. Dickon from The Secret Garden was always one of my favorite literary characters. I love your idea of using Dickon to honor your dad!

  5. All this Nard-talk is reminding me of Andy “The Nard Dog” Bernard from “The Office”. Despite that association, I have a problem with the sound “Nar” in the name, but I don’t know why. I think this would be a sweet name for a boy, but I couldn’t give it to my child.

  6. My first introduction to Reynard was via Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” and his rendiction of Chanticleer and the Fox. I really like the name and could see myself putting it on future lists were it not for the fact that we’ve already used R in Roseanna’s name.

  7. Could you maybe clarify pronunciation on this one? I’ve never met one, but read one way, it would appear to be possibly related to the German Reinhard.
    Great research, and fascinating story! Thanks!

    1. RAY-nard. 🙂 I graduated in the French Immersion program and I took 4 years of high school German and 3 years of high school Spanish. 🙂

      1. Catherine’s right, but I wonder what would happen in American English. Bernard in British English sounds better to me – BUR nerd – but I don’t think you could see it here, where we all say bur NARD. So I wonder if you’d hear ray NARD instead … not nearly as attractive.

  8. We had Rainer on our short list for both boys… similar sound, but to me it feels a bit fresher. I do like something about Raynard, though.

    1. Rainer is growing on me, though I guess I’m still partial to Rainier – which always feel so grown-up for a little boy. Same first element as Raymond and Reynard, BTW. 🙂

  9. My buddy when I was in elementary school’s name was Raynard. I’ve never really thought much about the name, it seemed common enough, but now that I think about it, I’ve never met another Raynard…always a Raymond or just a Ray. Is that in any way connected to Reynard?

    1. Raymond and Reynard most likely share the first element – from the Germanic ragin, advice.

      1. Thanks! The more I think about it, the more I like Reynard. But am not sure which spelling I like better, Raynard or Reynard. Would it be easier for people to not mispronounce Raynard? I’ve already seen more people pronounce Reynard, REE-nard, not RAY-nard. Or maybe it’s just the accent where I’m from.