Name Help is a series at Appellation Mountain. Every Saturday, one reader’s name questions will be discussed.
We’re relying on thoughtful comments from the community to help expectant parents narrow down their name decisions. Thank you in advance for sharing your insight!
Rob and I are expecting our baby in the coming weeks. We are struggling to find a boy names.
Our little girl Renée was an easy choice. It fit our criteria:
- simple and short
- easily pronounceable in English and French
- not overly popular
If this baby is a girl we’ll be deciding between Alice and Nadia.
But a boy? We can’t agree.
My husband likes Alex, Jacob, and Brandon but these are too common for me.
I’d prefer Felix, Dominic, or Cedric.
The only boys name that we seem to compromise on are Bradley and Zachary.
Can you help recommend other boys names that we may not have considered?
Read on for my answer, and please add your helpful suggestions in the comments!
Congratulations on your baby-on-the-way!
I’m always interesting in the phrase “not too popular.” It’s something that many parents want, but it’s difficult to define. It can mean many different things.
Typically, it means not in the Top Ten, and usually not in the Top 100. Let’s look at your names:
- Jacob – a long-time #1 name – is definitely out.
- At #128, Alex seems like a better bet. Except that Alexander has been very popular in recent years, and currently ranks #8. Most of those Alexanders answer to Alex, so that’s out, too.
- Brandon has a long history in the US Top 100, but Dominic is currently #69.
- Meanwhile, Cedric is an obscure #785, and Felix is #267.
- Of your two compromise names, Bradley ranked #184 in 2014, while Zachary came in at #82.
Hmmm … I’m not sure there’s a clear direction from the numbers, and “less obscure than Cedric, not as popular as Jacob” leaves a lot of room in the middle.
But the part about the name having to work in French can help narrow things down. I looked up the most popular French names on my go-to site for French baby names: Meilleurs Prenoms. The Francophone world is vast, though. If you’re thinking of Quebec, the list is different.
One good strategy might be to choose a name that is popular in French-speaking countries, but less well known in the US.
At a minimum, all of the names on this list appear in the Meilleurs Prenoms database – a good indication that you’d hear them in France.
- Axel – A medieval spin on the Old Testament Absalom, Axel is originally Scandinavian. But it’s been in the French Top 100 in recent years, and also ranked #145 in the US. Axel is short, simple, and complete, and shares the letter ‘x’ with Felix and Alex.
- Abel – I think the Old Testament Abel is probably considered dated in France – it peaked in the early twentieth century. But it would be familiar, and like Axel, it’s short and simple. Abel ranked #164 in the US.
- Alec – If not Alex, how about Alec? I’ll admit, I got the idea from this Pixies single, inspired by Alexandre Eiffel. Alec ranked #469 in the US, with is pretty obscure. But it’s definitely familiar in the US. Alec appears to be fairly obscure in France and Quebec, too, but definitely not unknown.
- Luca – French parents are just as likely as Americans to choose names from other cultures. And so the Italian Luca has been popular in both countries in recent years, ranked #185 in the US and in the French Top 100 in recent years. Another possibility? Enzo, ranked #369 in the US, and recently in the French Top Ten. While both would work beautifully in France and the US, I suspect that choosing Italian names doesn’t quite feel like the right approach.
- Theo – Alex always makes me think of Theo. The name ranked #311 in the US in 2014, and is definitely catching on, along with longer form Theodore. Just Theo has been in the French Top 20 in recent years, and is also popular in Quebec. A few other ends-in-o names that come to mind? Milo, Hugo, and Leo.
- Colin – Colin isn’t really current in France today, but it does have a history of use. The same might be said for the US. At #140, Colin is falling of use. But that might make Colin a perfect name that is widely known, but not frequently shared with other children your son’s age – the same way I’d describe Renée.
- Nolan – Nolan is originally an Irish surname, and brings to mind baseball thanks to Nolan Ryan. But it’s also big in France, Quebec, and in the US Top 100 at #81.
- Tom/Thomas – Like many of the names that seem like strong possibilities, Tom and Thomas don’t feel especially French. But they are popular in France, as well as Quebec. Thomas ranked #54 in the US in 2014 – closer to Zachary and Dominic than Cedric.
None of these feel especially French, not in the way that Renée does. But when I look for French names for boys that could work in English and still retain a certain essential French style, I come up empty. Jules, Clement, Gaspard, Antoine, Laurent, and Maxime/Maxence all feel a little too off center to appeal to you both.
Readers, what would you suggest to Elisa and her husband? Are there any great English-French crossover names that I’ve missed?
These are all listed on MeilleursPrenoms [therefore, used in francophone areas], *and* also on BehindTheName’s “French” list [therefore, tend to be seen as “French” in the U.S.]…
Currently ranked 101-1000 in the U.S.:
Abel, Adrien, Alan, Albert, Alexis, Alfred, Andre/André, Antoine, Ariel, Arthur, Blaise, Brice, Bruno, Cesar/César, Damien, Dimitri, Dominique, Dorian, Edgar, Emmanuel, Enzo, Ernest, Eugene/Eugène, Felix/Félix, Francis, Frank, Gael/Gaël, Gerald/Gérald, Gilbert, Hector, Jean, Jerome/Jérôme, Joel/Joël, Josue/Josué, Julien, Killian, Leon/Léon, Leonard/Léonard, Lionel, Manuel, Marc, Marcel, Martin, Mateo, Matheo/Mathéo, Mathias, Matthias, Maurice, Morgan, Nathanael/Nathanaël, Nicolas, Noe/Noé, Noel/Noël, Patrick, Paul, Pierre, Quentin, Raphael/Raphaël, Raymond, Remy/Rémy, Richard, Roger, Roland, Ruben, Theo/Théo, Theodore/Théodore, Valentin, Victor, Vincent
Not currently ranked in the U.S. (last year ranked):
Alexandre (2003), Alphonse (1964), Armand (1997), Augustin (1906), Bertrand (1948), Casimir (1938), Christophe (1972), Clair (1965), Claude (1993), Clement/Clément (1969), Clovis (1941), Cyril (1966), Dan (2000), Denis (1991), Edmond (1989), Elie/Élie (1911), Emile/Émile (1962), Ferdinand (1971), Fernand (1932), Florian (1941), Fred (2002), Frederic/Frédéric (1979), Gaston (1936), Geoffrey (2005), Gerard/Gérard (2002), Gustave (1940), Guy (2006), Herbert (2002), Horace (1989), Hubert (1986), Isidore (1928), Jacques (1998), Jeremie/Jérémie (1989), Jules (1961), Lambert (1941), Leopold/Léopold (1926), Luc (2002), Lucien (1954), Michel (1990), Norbert (1971), Octave (1896), Regis/Régis (1964)
Louis and Renée are a lovely couple! Read “Strong Motion” by Jonathan Franzen if you want to be persuaded: the main characters have these names and they’re awesome! Even if you don’t like Louis, Renée is one of the best fictional women ever – so you definitely have to give this book a try! 🙂
Victor is used in France – it’s quite retro too
I thought Robert or Mark would be good with Renee and should work.
I see nothing wrong with using the English version of a name and the French (ala pope Francis/Francois/Franciscus). John and Jean both make good names – I’m Australian and it is reasonably common here for migrants to do this – I have a friend Paul who has the legal name Pavlos (Greek) , friends use either depending on heritage.
Actually what about Francis?
Love the idea of a double barreled name with Jean. I think Jean Paul would work well.
As has been noted, your task is more challenging if you want the name to be instantly recognizable as having French roots, since many popular names for boys are common among both English- and French-speakers (Gabriel, Thomas, Daniel, Charles, Robert etc.). I’d not go with Jacques if you’re in the US because its spelling seems to befuddle a lot of people.
Renée peaked in popularity in France in 1920, so instead of looking at what’s popular in France today, why not choose another ‘retro’ name for a boy:
Marcel, Philippe, Pascal, Emile, Louis, Noel, Sylvain
You could also go with Maxime or Maxence and call him Max most of the time. Maxime is a favourite of mine, as is Rémy, but Rémy and Renée is maybe a little too matchy.
LOVE the idea of looking at 1920s names, Havoye! Louis is my favorite from your list.
Elizabeth Johnson says
How about Leon or Raoul?
This is both easy, and very hard. Easy, in that quite a few of our “English” names are actually French, thanks to the Norman conquest, and hard in that quite a few of the “French” names in English do not strike people as French any more, thanks to the Norman conquest. 🙂
But here are a few thoughts:
Claude: Identical in French and English, and rare enough in English today that it will probably bring to mind more famous French people than English people.
Henry or Harry: The latter is how the former is pronounced in French, which is how it developed into a variant of it in English, too.
Arthur: “French” also includes names of Breton decent, such as this. It may seem quintessentially English, but it’s roots are from the continent.
Tristan: of “and Iseult” fame, Tristan was the standard French spelling of the name which was Tristram in English; nowadays Tristan is also a recognizably English spelling.
Bertrand: Again, this is the standard French spelling of the name, which used to be more commonly Bertram in English, but in the last century or two the French form has eclipsed the English. The name might seem a bit fussy and old-fashioned, but the nickname Bertie has become vogue again.
Alan: Another name, like Arthur, deriving from Breton elements, thus connecting it squarely with the continent. The modern French form Alain would still be recognizable enough to English-speakers to seem familiar.
What about Jacque? It’s recognizable, close enough to Jacob and Jack, but still unique. I think I just gave myself shivers – Renee and Jacque, what a great sibset.
Jean feels a little …naked to me, given that it’s spelled exactly like the girls’ name here. But I love the idea of a double barreled French name. Jean-Luc is the one that came to mind (yeah, I’m a Trekkie,) but something like a Giancarlo or some other French equivalent might work well.
I’m of the mindset that says embrace the Frenchness, and find a French name that will work in English. Jacque, Remy, Xavier, Olivier, even Henri all seem to celebrate the heritage, even if the French top 20 list looks an awful lot like ours.
The Mrs. says
Hmmm… some of my Swiss-born friends (who are French-speaking) have a son named Alec and another named Tristan. They mentioned that the ‘th’ sound doesn’t occur in French, so names like Ethan or Theo aren’t pronounced the same as in America.
Perhaps you like Jean (pronounced Zjohn) or Guy (pronounced Ghee)? Antoine?
Louis is a good suggestion already mentioned!
Best wishes as you welcome your sweet addition!
the Mrs. says
Just thought of Simon! Renee and Simon are charming together!
Great suggestion, the Mrs.!
What about Martin, Pierre, Jean (would be confused with girl’s name, if not in a French-ish area), Xavier, Guy, Benoît, Bernard, Maurice, Serge, André, or my favourite, Guillaume?
Since I’ve been thinking about Lucian recently, how about the French version Lucien? I also second Sarah’s suggestion of Remy.
Paul, Julien, Charles, Robert, Arthur, Philippe, or Louis? I think picking a classic name would ward against giving him a name that feels really out of date in one language or the other.
How about Dax? It’s a French name with a great meaning, like Renee. Like Renee too, it is more or less pronounced the same in both languages, which is a challenge. Other names I like that fit the bill are Marshall and Beau. I also like the above suggestion of Thomas, although the name is pronounced quite differently in French, it is still, I think, recognizable.
Sebastian (or Sebastien). Lots of great nicknames if they’re into that: Seb, Sebby, Sebas (SAY-bas), Bastian.
I have young French cousins (American dad, French mom so similar desire for a name that works in both languages) who live in France. The boys are Maxim (Max) and Thomas (Tom).
A Quebecois acquaintance of mine has a son named Benno. I wonder if that would work? I might also suggest Tobias (my high school French isn’t that great, but Tobias is a name that isn’t difficult to imagine in a French accent for me).
I’d also add that Tobias shortens to Toby, which is very francais-friendly 😉
Sebastian would be wonderful. Did I miss a veto from either parent in the original post?
Also, I heard a LOT of Paul in France in the mid-90s. But Paul is a classic and sounds lovely with Renee.
No, but they said short … and I think Sebastian might be a little on the popular side. But it is a GREAT crossover name – and a great name in general, so it should be on the list!
One of my really good friends is half French and was raised in America. Her american mom had the same criteria when naming her kids. For their son they chose Marc. The name is not on the top 20 for the US, Quebec or France. The spelling is recognizable in the US but European in feeling. You could even extend that to Marcus if you wish. In the US in 2014 Mark ranked 189 , Marcus 156, while Marc came in at 636. Good luck and congratulations!