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.