What’s in a Name? Ask Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen believes children born in France along with those of immigrants who become naturalised French, should be helped to assimilate rapidly into society by being given proper “French” names.
(Read more online French News here)
The President of the Front National and a leading contender in the 2012 French Presidential election race was responding to questions from a group of trainee journalists at the Centre de formation des journalistes (CFJ) in Paris on a YouTube pre-election campaign channel.
She told them: “It is a very, very effective, very high performance way of ensuring assimilation. It has fallen into disuse today on the pretext of retaining or reflecting a link to the original nationality or culture of origin (and means) today we give French-born children foreign-sounding names and I think this probably makes life more complicated, it slows down and delays their necessary assimilation.”
Not unexpectedly she has come under strong attack from the Left for her remarks. But names (‘given names’ ‘Christian names’, ‘first names’ as they are variously called) have never been culturally neutral.
In France, as in other sunbelt states hewing to the Napoleonic code such as Portugal and Spain, the ‘Gallicization’ of foreign names used by anyone seeking to become a naturalised citizen is ‘encouragée, parfois de manière insistante, par l’administration’ (vociferously encouraged by officials handling such applications.)
Indeed until recently French first names had to be selected from an approved list based essentially on popular saints names in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, a practice applicable also in the Iberian Peninsular.
As Wikipidia puts it: “The choice of given names, originally limited only by the tradition of naming children after a small number of popular saints, was restricted by law at the end of the 18th century. Officially, only names figuring on a calendar, or names of illustrious Frenchmen/women of the past, could be accepted. Much later, actually in 1966, a new law permitted a limited number of mythological, regional or foreign names, substantives (Olive, Violette), diminutives, and alternative spellings. Only in 1993 were French parents given the freedom to name their child without any constraint whatsoever. However, if the birth registrar thinks that the chosen names (alone or in association with the last name) may be detrimental to the child’s interests, or to the right of other families to protect their own family name, the registrar may refer the matter to the local prosecutor, who may choose to refer the matter to the local court. The court may then refuse the chosen names. Such refusals are rare and mostly concern given names that may expose the child to mockery.”
The economist and author Jacques Attali writing in l’Express magazine sharply upbraided the Front National assimilation test (not a new theme for the party which has used the naming issue in earlier election campaigns).
Attali recalled that first names all have one origin: “they are historic and come from abroad in European countries, made up by waves of different populations over time and particularly in France, a crossing point for numerous migrations and invasions”. In particular in France, he noted, the origins of people’s names is highly diverse — Greek, Hebrew, Latin came from our ancestors, but there are also Germanic, English, Welsh, Irish, Viking, influences, to which more recently were added a variety of names from various cultures settling in France such as Italians, Spaniards, Arabs, Asians from the Far East, Africans. A name of “Gallic” origin is almost nonexistent, he insisted.
Indeed names and naming have a propensity for stirring up strong emotions as Renault, the French car manufacturer learnt to its chagrin last year when it revealed that its high-tech electric vehicle due to hit the highways in 2012 had been baptised the Renault Zoé.
There was uproar and a group of indignant citizens set up an association to stop the usurping of people’s first names by manufacturers for commercial purposes.
L’ADNP – Association pour la Défense de Nos Prénoms hired David Koubbi a Paris lawyer at the firm 28 Octobre to formalise their demands and in May 2010 the lawyers issued a formal demand (mise en demeure) to Renault on behalf of their client Zoé Renault and members of the ADNP.
The ADNP urges supporters to sign up for their campaign to put an end to the use of names used by people, for products or concepts. Among those targeted are motor car manufacturers, service and Internet providers or appliance manufacturers who, the website says, “focus their marketing strategy on the impact they can cause by using our first names to boost their sales! The name ‘Mégane’, which was very popular in the 90’s has all but disappeared since Renault launched a car of the same name. Zoé will go the same way tomorrow if Renault is not stopped…!” ADNP says the trend offends against long established cultural values in society and impacts on people bearing a ‘commercially-usurped’ name . “Once baptised, a person’s name contributes significantly to the process of building a person’s identity from birth to adulthood. It evokes a saint or a holy character from the Bible or other sacred text or from fable, or an historical figure, each name has its roots in the ancient and modern history of our societies. ADNP thus concentrates on ensuring that no enterprise will be allowed affect people in this way. ‘Zoé Renault’ is not a pile of scrap metal, a lethal weapon, a large city, a machine destined for scrap! Zoé is my daughter, my granddaughter, my friend, my sister, my neighbor, Zoé is ME! Zoé is 30 000 girls, girls, young women and women who are mobilizing to change awareness about the misuse of their name by firms branding consumer goods!” “I had planned to baptise my child Clio, the muse in history’, Pauline a young mother told the site, ‘but I was forced to change my mind after I learnt it was a brand name”. The Zoe Renault website gave account of their efforts to force the carmaker to rethink the move.
For reference here is the once official list, of preferred French first names –Liste alphabétique des prénoms (in French and as a PDF)
Story: Ken Pottinger
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