Is this an old-school français nickname? Or a sci-fi invention from the 23rd century?
Thanks to Lily for suggesting Lilou as our Baby Name of the Day.
1997’s The Fifth Element starred the very American Bruce Willis, but the director and co-author was famous Frenchman Luc Besson.
Set in the twenty-third century, Bruce played Korben Dallas, an unassuming taxi driver who becomes responsible for the fate of the Earth when a beautiful, mysterious woman crashes into his cab.
Korben and his passenger must gather four stones that will help the planet fend off an attack from the great evil, which now looms in the sky above.
The passenger calls herself Leeloo, and is played by supermodel Milla Jovovich, and it turns out that she’s an integral part of stopping the great evil.
All ends happily, with Korben and Leeloo falling for each other. Love saves the day, and life on Earth continues. The movie was a hit, in France, the US, and elsewhere.
Lilou: Faux French?
Something else happened in 1997. Suddenly, French parents starting using the name Lilou – pronounced exactly the same as Leeloo.
With timing like that, it’s impossible to say that the movie wasn’t the source of inspiration. And yet, the spelling is different, and I’ve come across lots of alternate origin stories for the name, including:
- It could be a smoosh of Lili and Lou.
- It might be a nickname for any name ending in -lie, of which there are oodles in French. -ou is a diminutive ending in French, and it makes me think of bijou and mon chou.
- It’s often listed as a short form of Liliane, the French form of Lillian.
- I’ve read that the Occitan form of Lily is Lilo, pronounced exactly like Lilou.
More evidence that the name existed prior to the movie? A few women were definitely given the name in the years before, including French actress Lilou Fogli, born Amelie-Lilou in 1981.
Lilou has been in the French Top 20 since 2006, and while it peaked a few years ago, the name remains very popular. It’s also spelled Lylou and yes, sometimes Leeloo – which I think we can safely assume is a nod to Besson’s 1997 sci-fi hit.
Lilou: Lily’s Cousin?
Lily has been a wildly popular name in the US in recent years, with many forms of the name in the US Top 1000.
We’ve also loved lots of names with the repeating L-l, like Layla, Lila, and Delilah.
So how about Lilou? 21 girls were given the name in 2013, and another 17 in 2014. The first year there were five or more Lilous born in the US was 2002.
There were also eleven newborn Leeloos last year, but that spelling hasn’t been as popular as Lilou.
It’s possibly, of course, that some parents put Lillian or Liliane or another Lily-name on the birth certificate, but used this more distinctive nickname.
The letter L is a big favorite in France, too, with names like Lea, Lola, Lisa, Lou, Louane, Lena, and Lina all quite popular.
Lilou: Intriguing Rarity
When we talk about French names for girls, we tend to stick to the classics. The time-tested Genevieve and Marguerite and Madeleine. But the French, like many Europeans, prefer shorter names today. It’s a trend that Lilou fits beautifully.
Perhaps that’s why Lilou isn’t catching on in the US. Maybe, like Gigi and Coco, it just feels too informal. Or maybe we’re just one more high-profile use of Lilou away from this name catching on in the US, too.
What do you think of Lilou? Would you use it as an independent name, or do you prefer it as a nickname for something longer?
I know a little Lilou! And she is adorable. It does feel very nicknamey to me but you’re right that perceptions are different in France (just as in the UK parents don’t seem to shy away from nicknames as given names). I’d actually use Lilou as a nickname for my daughter except that she associates the name with her friend, so we call her Lilas (lee-lah) instead.
Christina Fonseca says
I like the sound of Lilou, but think of it as “cute”, an attribute I personally would not choose as a given name for my own child.