I was lucky enough to go to Paris recently, and like most tourists, I ate croissants in sidewalk cafes, visited museums and walked along the Seine. Unlike most tourists, I also investigated the chicest French baby names.
“Prune,” pronounced a very stylish and knowledgeable Parisian woman of my acquaintance. “Prune is the newest, most charming name for little girls.”
It’s hard to imagine Prune as a charming name for a child in any country, until you realize that in French it’s the equivalent of Plum. Now THAT makes sense.
For boys, this same friend offered the name Illan, another unlikely translation to English. In France, it’s pronounced Ee-lahn and sounds quite elegant.
Another friend, who volunteers at a Montessori preschool near the Louvre, said her class includes children named Capucine, the French for nasturtium; Frostine, best known to American children as the queen in Candyland; and Zingo — though Zingo (a boy) is Japanese.
Further investigation turned up the following French baby names on the Paris most-chic list:
ADELE: Asleep in the United States but sprightly in Paris.
ANNAELLE: Names that end with AEL or AELLE, which is pronounced ah-el, are typical of Brittany in the north of France.
CLARA: Definitely on the rise in the United States as well.
ELOISE: Another name also being rediscovered in the United States.
ENNA: Pronounced Ay-na.
HELENE: English speakers would say Hel-een but the French pronounce this Hell-EHN.
LOU: Many Lou-related names are stylish in France as well as throughout Europe. Other versions chic now include Lilou (lee-loo) and Malou (mah-loo).
LOUISE: I mention this long form separately from Lou to make the point that the French version of names typically does not end with an “a” sound — Louise vs. Louisa, Diane instead of Diana, Marie not Maria.
LUCILLE: May be part of the Lu craze.
MANUELA: Not a French name but a Latinate one stylish there.
MARGUERITE: In France, more the equivalent of Daisy than of Margaret.
SOLENE: Solange was fashionable a generation ago; this version, pronounced so-lehn, is the stylish one now.
THEA: Pronounced Tay-a.
THELMA: Prettier pronounced the French way — tel-ma — than with that thunk of a “thel.”
VIOLETTE: As Violet is stylish in the United States, the French version, pronounced vee-oh-let, is chic there.
AMAURY: Bears some relationship to Amery or Amory, also stylish in the United States.
AUGUSTE: They would say oh-goost.
BASILE: Pronounced bah-ZEEL.
CESAR: The French version takes an accent over the “e.” This imperial name might be more fit for modern American babydom thanks to the bestselling dog trainer.
EMMANUEL: Biblical choice overdue for revival in other places as well.
FERDINAND: An old pan-European name — do you dare?
FLORENT: One of those boys’ names that can probably only make it in Paris.
JULES: With Julius, taking over from Julian.
LOUIS: The Lou thing.
TANGUY: Very typically French, pronounced tangy with a very emphatic hard g.
THIBAUD: Another classic French choice, pronounced tee-bow.
Nameberry (http://nameberry.com) is a baby-naming site produced by Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz, co-authors of nine bestselling baby name guides, including “The Baby Name Bible” and “Cool Names for Babies.”