Fetching Names: Les Mademoiselles

Deutsch: Eiffelturm Français : La tour Eiffel

Deutsch: Eiffelturm Français : La tour Eiffel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most popular posts on AppMtn is, hands down, Ooh La La: French Names for Girls.  Plenty of French feminine names have been requested over the years, and search terms like “cute French names for girls” lead here at a steady pace.

But not every French name seems promising.  70s staples like Danielle and Nicole are solidly in mom name territory.  Other once-fashionable choices seem out of step in 2012.  Antoinette, for one, feels overdone, even as I think Antonella is wearable.

This list rounds up the most promising of the appellations française for a jeunne fille born in the English speaking world today.

Anais – A well known option thanks to writer Anaïs Nin, this variant of Anna is pronounced ah nah EES, though I’ve heard it paired down to ah NEES, which seems easier to wear, even as it sacrifices some of the name’s style.  Despite our ongoing interest in -ana names, Anais actually left the US Top 1000 in recent years.  That could make it the perfect name for literary, Francophile parents to use now.

Azelie – The French word for Azalea, she’s a botanical rarity with religious significance.  Marie-Azélie was the mother of the future Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, and is considered venerable in her own right.  Catholic families looking for exotic appellations with appropriately spiritual credentials can safely consider Azelie.  Short form Zelie – pronounced ZAY lee, is kicky, and stands on her own, too.

Camille – She’s a tragic heroine, the name Alexandre Dumas, fils, gave to a courtesan with a heart of gold in his 1848 novel.  It was adapted for the stage in 1852, and later became a ballet and a movie.  Greta Garbo was Oscar nominated for her turn as Camille in 1936.  She’s never left the US Top 1000, and today she’s gaining in use.

Celeste – With Madeleine all the rage, this heavenly name has always seemed like a logical successor.  And yet she’s actually falling out of favor these days, even as other French names climb.  For parents seeking a nickname-proof option, Celeste is a promising option.

Claire – She’s very popular at the moment, reaching #50 in 2011.  And yet spare, slim Claire still feels on the right side of stylish.

Clemence – The vintage, quirky Clementine is finding favor with stylish parents in the US.  In France, it is Clemence in the spotlight.  Pronounced clay MAWNS, she’d be a challenge in English – but delightful in the middle spot.

Coco – What’s more French than Chanel?  While the iconic designer’s surname feels overused, her nickname – she was born Gabrielle – is fresh and ready to wear.  Want a longer form for her birth certificate?  Look here.

Elodie – The mellifluous Elodie is a saint’s name, the French form of Alodia. She remains unranked in the US, but thanks to the easy nickname option Ellie and her similarity to the familiar Melody, she’s slowly gaining in use.

Faustine – A childhood favorite of mine, I was surprised to see her gaining in use in France.  I can’t tell if Faustine’s rise is related to a popular novel, or if the novelist just borrowed a fashionable moniker for its heroine.

Françoise – The saintly Francis has had a good run over the centuries, and feminine form Frances has quietly creeped back up the charts in the US.  A French staple in the 1940s, she’s rarely given to newborns today.  But if you want a name that screams français, Françoise is literally the best option.  Pronounced frahn SWAHZ, she shortens to the sweet nickname Frannie.

Genevieve – She seems poised to pick up where Madeleine left off, becoming the most popular French name for girls.  Saint Genevieve was the patron saint of Paris.  Better still, she’s nickname-rich, with choices from Gen to Vivi to Evie.

Josephine – Another rapidly rising appellation, Josephine combines the romance of the French Empire with a healthy dose of jazz age swing.

Juliette – She brings to mind Verona, but -ette is also a favorite way to form a French diminutive.  Annette is aging, but Juliette is fresh.

Lilou – What’s not to love about Lilou, a white hot choice in France, related to Lily, Liliane, and Milla Jovovich’s character in the 1997 sci-fi flick The Fifth Element, Leeloo.  Like Coco or Lulu, it might wear better as a short form.

Lucienne – It is easy to imagine Lucy among the most popular names in the US – she’d reached #72 in 2011.  Parents seeking a longer form have plenty of choices, but perhaps the most appealing of the French options is this, the feminine form of Lucien, cousin to Luke.  If retro chic is your thing, there’s also Lucille.

Ludivine – Let’s say you love Lulu but could do without Lucy.  This French rarity – the feminine form of an obscure eighth-century saint’s name – is one way to go.  She’s fabulously clunky.

Maëlle – Don’t you just love a name with an umlaut?  Okay, technically it is a diaeresis, but either way, it could make for some confusion.  Luckily, Maelle looks like a smoosh of Mae and Elle – and while the French pronunciation is closer to MY leh, I suspect MAE elle would make for a rather pleasing way to import the saintly Maelle into English.  I’ve also stumbled across Évaëlle, gorgeous in French, but maybe too close to our word evil in English.  Maëlie is yet another related name, and could be the easiest to wear.

Marguerite – Sensible Margaret is a heavy-hitter, the kind of name worn by women of accomplishment.  While seldom heard in France or the US nowadays, she is rich with promise.  As smart as her English cousin, but with style – the Harvard grad clad in vintage Chanel.

Noemie – The French form of Naomi makes for an appealing alternative to the Biblical original.  Drop the final -e, and she’s Noemi – the Spanish version, and currently #685 in the US.  Pronunciation is either no ay MEE, no eh MEE, or sometimes even blurred to just two syllables – no MEE.  French model Noémie Lenoir lends the name some glam.

Oceane – Strictly speaking, she’s Océane, pronounced oh say AHN, the French word for the sea.  American parents have to decide if they’d be troubled by native English speakers misunderstanding her name as Ocean.  One possible alternative?  Give her the double name Marie-Oceane – though that might create as many problems as it solves.

Severine – If the littlest Beckham can have the middle name Seven, why not Severine?  Derived from the same Latin root as our word severe, Severine sounds elegant and upscale – more restrained glamor, rather than harsh judgment.

Solange – She’s a ninth century saint, and appropriately enough, her name comes from the Latin term for solemn, as in religious.  It is tempting to interpret this one as sol – sun – and ange – angel, but that’s just folk etymology.  Solange is a wildly pretty name, though perhaps a bit extravagant.

Vivienne – The youngest Jolie-Pitt daughter can take some credit for our renewed interest in this category.  When she was born in 2008, Vivienne hadn’t been in the Top 1000 for ages.  Today she stands at #383 and is climbing quickly.
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Which names have I left off the list?  Do you find French names stylish?

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I can’t believe we left out the best nickname for Genevieve: Gigi! My sister loved the movie, and when looking for a name to keep with the francophile naming theme of her kids, Genevieve (Gigi) Lucille came up. It’s fun, not often come across, but still has the history and culture of the full name behind it.

Ditto Havoye — I’ve never heard Maëlle as anything except mah-el. I think the confusion with this one is that French pronunciation isn’t as “lazy” as English, i.e. the /l/s are pronounced almost “hard”, with the tongue ending up behind the top teeth — therefore it sounds [especially when the name is isolated] like there *might* be another syllable on the end when you let your tongue down, but there definitely isn’t. Also, the diaeresis is there to tell you that the two vowels are pronounced separately, *not* as one diphthong. So Anaïs is ah-nah-ees, Évaëlle is ay-vah-el, and Noémie is no-ay-mee, with the vowels separated — I’ve never heard these ‘blurred’ into less syllables.

That said, I do like and appreciate a loads of French names but not many are on my list for girls. Probably because of my own given name and the fact that I hear them constantly. 🙂

My mother was one of six daughters (and five brothers) in a Franco-American family. The girls were: Yolande, Ludovine, Clairisse, Lucille, Madeleine, and Alice.

I obviously adore Josephine (mine’s 8 now!) and have loved Marguerite for a possible sister for years. I also adore Lilou, but think I use it as a nickname for Lucasta or Louisa.

I’d absolutely add Capucine to this list. I think monkey before coffee too, fwiw. And that would suit any of my kids to a ‘t’!

I love Sylvie too, but He went to part of Kindergarten with a French Sylvie and it kind of creeps me out he remembers her at all. Still, I think it’s really lovely and deserves a lot more use.

Maëlle is actually pronounced mah-ell – there is no “ah” or “uh” sound at the end. I think it might befuddle some English speakers, but not excessively so. Unfortunately, I think Anaïs would often be butchered by English speakers, but it really depends on their familiarity with the name. We considered the name Thaïs (pronounced tie-ees) for our little girl, who was born last month and is half French, but in the end decided it was going to be too unwieldy for English speakers to deal with. It’s definitely an up-and-coming name in France, however – the -is ending is definitely ‘hot’ there.

We ended up naming or daughter Marianne, although Viviane (the more common spelling in francophone areas) and Alix were also strong contenders. It’s a name that’s considered somewhat dated in France, having peaked midway through the 20th century, but we live in Montreal and it’s quite popular here at the moment. I don’t know if it has the potential to rise in popularity in the English-speaking world, at least not now, like some of the other names on your list like Genevieve and Josephine, given that it was also a mid-century name in the US, but maybe we’ll see the slightly frillier Mariana rising soon.

To your list, I would add Sylvie. French speakers tend to consider it horribly dated, but judging from the reactions I’ve seen on naming boards, English speakers are finding it fresh and perhaps slightly bubblier than the statelier-sounding Sylvia.

Garance and Capucine are both pretty popular in France – both are in their Top 200. Personally, I adore the name Capucine – despite the capuccino connection.

Other French name loves for me include Floriane, Solene (grave accent should be on the first e), Segolene (ditto Solene), Ghislaine, Raphaelle, Lénaig, Magalie, Manon, Amandine, Mélisande and Alizée.

Fun fact for ye: Fanny is in the French Top 100, which caused somewhat of an uproar amongst my English peers when we went on an exchange trip to a French school where there were plenty of girls with the name.

Great post! My husband is a bit more of a Francophile than I am, but many French names have been on my list at one time or another.

I recently became aware of Anais because of Anais Mitchell, whose album Hadestown I LOVE. I first pronounced it An-EYE-us in my head, and I still kind of like that more.

Claire was once one of my favored, then she morphed into Claribel, then Clarabelle, then down the list. Still lovely, but not as favored.

I like Coco as a short form for perhaps Coral or Coralena.

Elodie is pretty. And I dig Josephine. Lilou is intriguing. Lucienne is lovely. Ludivine is fascinating. Maëlle is very cute. Love Noemie! I prefer Celestine to Celeste.

My favorite from the list though is Azelie. French and floral, what’s not to love?

I also love the names Léonie, Joëlle, Simone, Sidonie, Thérèse, Yvonne, and Étiennette. Then there are the French word names Jolie and Alouette.


I considered Leonie and Delphine for our baby girls but my husband thought they were too French. He, on the other hand, suggested Monique, which I thought was too 80s. Since then we have met a little Monique and it fits her great.

Excellent list!

My host family in Brazil had 3 daughters: Sonia, Simone, and Solange. Solange is a fantastic name. Love Josephine and Therese/Theresa. One of my nieces has Marguerite (after her great-granny) as a middle name. I have a coworker with a little Camille. Lilou is a guilty pleasure (love the movie, too). I might use Louise to get to Lilou.

I see Oceane as OH-she-ann or OH-she-ahn. I couldn’t use this IRL, but it would make a great character name.

My cousin has a baby Marguerite Louise. I have sisters Lisette (liss-ette no z sound) and Cozette. With the Les Mis movie coming out I can see Cosette/Cozette getting a boost.

I love Marguerite; I think it’s strong and feminine with a hint of the exotic to English speakers (though some think it’s a bit pretentious for a non-francophone). Camille and Claire are also among my favorites.

When I was about 10 I met a girl skiing called Anais, she pronounced it On-nyah which is how I always presumed it was pronounced until a Literature lesson about Nin a few years ago, when I realised it was An-nah-ees.
I’ve never heard of that pronounciation since? She was British like me, I don’t know whether it’s an English thing?

Maelle is more like Myla … but I think you might be better off to say MAE elle in English …

And I think my new favorite Lu name is Lucasta … there are so many good ones.

Therese – I love! Also Teresa (I know neither are ‘on’ the list but they were mentioned.) I like the ter-EES and ter-AY-zsa pronunciations because I feel it’s a more logical jump to Tess.

Camille – I like Camille, but I would have a hard time making up my mind how to say it. ca-MEEL? ca-MEE?

Celeste – Keep falling! I don’t want it to be super popular so that I can use it! This has been in my top 10 for a while, regardless of fh saying it sounds like molest.

Elodie – I prefer Alodia because it’s less likely to be confused with Melody.

Genevieve – Gorgeous! I like the nn option Ginny. My favorite in this Guinevere/Genevieve/Jennifer family is the Italian Ginevra, though. (After Ginny Weasley!)

Josephine – I like this one too! Josie is such a cute name.

Ludivine/Lucienne – I like Lucia (loo-CHEE-a) better.

Maelle – I like this look! Is Maelie pronounced MY-lee?

Marguerite – My mom goes by this in some circles, but it’s not her given name. I’m always on the lookout for Mar- Mag- names.

Vivienne – I rather like Vivian, but again fh doesn’t. I think he’d want to name our kid Jane Doe and move along.