First names given in France, 1800–2019


Jean-François Mignot

Demographer, CNRS, France

Oct. 7, 2022, 10:16 a.m.


First names given to newborns are an indicator of the historical process of individualization, i.e. parents’ increasing willingness to give their child a unique identity and to make others regard it as unique.

Babies have been receiving a higher number of distinctive first names, especially since the 1950s. In France, while newborns received fewer than 2,000 different names per year in the 1900s, they receive more than 13,000 different names per year since 2010. This includes first names that were not given in France until recently, such as male names MiloLyam, Soan and Sasha and female names Elea, Lya, Anae an Lylou.

Babies have also been less often receiving one of the most popular first names, especially since the 1950s. In France, while 65% of newborns in 1810–1819 were given one of the Top-10 most frequently given names of the decade, this percentage has declined to only 10% of newborns in 2010–2019. In the 1810s, 14% of boys were named Jean and 19% of girls wer named Marie, while in the 2010s only 1% of boys were named Gabriel and 1% of girls Emma

Fashion for first names has also been changing more quickly since the early 20th century: the most popular names currently remain in fashion for a shorter period of time. Whereas JeanPierreLouisFrançois and Joseph were in the top-10 of the most popular male names given throughout the 19th century, EnzoThéoNathanMathis and Clément have been in the top-10 for one decade only (the 2000s). The evolution is even clearer for female names: the stability of MarieJeanneAnne and Louise throughout the 19th century contrasts to the brevity of the names ClaraSarah and Océane in the 2000s. 

Overall, in France as elsewhere in the West (England, United States, Brazil) and in the world (e.g., Indonesia), more and more parents are choosing for their children – particularly for their daughters – relatively new, distinctive and individualizing names. The analysis of first names can thus help social scientists measure the process of individualization and compare it across countries – a task that has been notoriously difficult to this day.

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