Grand entrance, Exposition Universal, 1900, Pa...

This post was originally published on January 14, 2009. It was substantially revised and re-posted on July 15, 2014.

Looking for a French name less popular than Madeleine, not as celebutante as Paris?

Thanks to Nessa for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day: Genevieve.

Not only is Genevieve authentically French, she occupies a special place in history.

Back in the fifth century, Attila the Hun prepared to march on Paris. Residents were packing up their worldly goods to flee when Genevieve suggested another course of action: pray, fast, and ask for God’s protection.

Believe it or not, Attila directed his troops elsewhere, and the city was spared. Little wonder she’s been the patron saint of Paris for centuries.

A later medieval legend gives us a second admirable Genevieve. This time she’s the wife of a nobleman, wrongly accused of infidelity. In the story, Genevieve flees with her son and, after many years in hiding, her husband discovers the truth and restores her good name. Historians suggest that her tale is based on a real life wife who was not so fortunate – her husband learned of her innocence after she’d met her maker. The legend inspired a nineteenth century operetta by Jacques Offenbach, but is not well known today.

The medieval Genevieve is also sometimes referred to as Genovefa, which is probably closer to the name’s original form. But her origins are murky, with some citing Celtic roots and others arguing a Germanic derivation.

There’s also:

  • Ginevra, from the Harry Potter franchise and the lives of Leonardo Da Vinci and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  • Guinevere, a totally unrelated name straight out of Arthurian romance, but with a similar sound.
  • A Swiss city, but also close in sound to Genevieve.

Speaking of sound, she’s very different in French: zhan vee EHV, instead of the English jenna VEEV.

Genevieve reached as high as #76 in 1916. She slowly fell out of favor, as other French feminine names took her place.  In France, she peaked a few decades later.

In the 1950s, Genevieve was a successful movie musical about a road race. But Genevieve wasn’t the driver – she was the stylish 1904 Darracq race car.

The trend reverses in the 1960s.  Why?

  • She piggy-backed on the rise of fellow Jen name Jennifer.
  • In the wildly popular musical Camelot, Guinevere appeals to Saint Genevieve in song.  The musical debuted in 1960, was adapted for the big screen in 1967, and is frequently revived and produced by regional theaters.

As Jennifer stumbled and Camelot faded, Genevieve stumbled.  But the twenty-first century has been kind to this name.  Credit TLC’s Trading Spaces designer Genevieve Gorder, as well as a general interest in French names for girls.

As of 2013, Genevieve ranks #218 – not quite as popular as her previous high, but with the potential to continue her climb.

And why not?  Genevieve is feminine and frilly, but she also has a definite strength to her.  Nicknames range fro Genie to Vivi to Evie to Gigi to Gen – something to suit any child.  It’s a name that manages to be neither too elaborate or too tailored – the middle road between Arabella and Esther.  If you’re looking for a mainstream name that balances sophistication and wearability, Genevieve could be the one.

What do you think of Genevieve? Do you think she’ll return to the US Top 100 any time soon?

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.

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What do you think?


  1. Actually, the French consider this a Celtic name with their pronunciation/spelling as a ‘French version’. It is said to mean ‘white wave/of the women race’ in Celtic. Genevieve, in other words, is not an ‘English’ version of the French name. It’s a version of the original Celtic. Great name, whatever its origins/meaning.

  2. I really like the name Genevieve, and though it is phonetically spelled I think people would still get the spelling wrong. It also seems long, and difficult for a young child to learn to write. If it didn’t have these drawbacks, it would be on my shortlist.

  3. My name is Genesis. Both have their roots in the same meaning. Wonder what could be some nice nicknames, if not the usual Jen/ Gen/ Genie. Its very annoying being called the Genie from Childrens’ Fairytales, you know. How do you pronounce it — Ge — naa — sis I guess.

  4. I think Genelia is a terrible nickname, one a little too reminiscent of some certain body parts…I am sure you know the names she will be called…

  5. My name is Genevieve and it gets my vote too! Its sad when people try to copy and mint words like Genelia…I’ve to be very adamant not being called by any nicknames.

  6. I have a Genevieve Olivia and receive so many compliments on her name. I have always loved the name and it was a way to use my grandfather’s name (Gene). Genevieve’s brother is Alexander Maxwell. Now we are expecting our third (don’t kow sex) and having a very hard time finding a name for either a boy or girl that we love as much and fits with Genevieve and Alexander. Penelope, Calliope and Caroline are frontrunners for girls. Boys we have no idea – Gabriel, Theodore (and my husband likes Hamilton) are the best we have so far but I’m not over the moon about any of them. Suggestions?

    1. Genevieve Olivia is beautiful!
      I like Penelope too, but I LOVE Theodore and Hamilton. Mostly because of the nickname Hammie. 🙂

    2. My daughter is Genevieve Marie. As a child she went by Genna, but when she graduated from high school she became Genevieve again and only introduces herself by that name. She loves her name and always gets compliments on it. My son’s children call her “Aunt Vieve” and she thinks that is perfect as well! She was named for my godmother and the name wasn’t very common back in the mid-eighties, but seems to be gaining a little popularity today.

  7. Aw~ I feel special ^^ My name is Genevieve Rose [1 name , not 2 seperate~] Thats what my mom told me , all I knew is that my name is French , my orchestra teacher said so as well .. The only time I’m feminine is when I’m wearing a dress xD But teachers keep calling me Geneevuh or Gweneveev . =.=;