For everyone who doesn’t like to be pigeon-holed, that moment when you are expecting a baby comes with a question: should you go with a unisex baby name? And a French unisex name? Ooh là là!
Unisex and gender-neutral names are rising in popularity as more and more parents look for unique and interesting names for (what they hope will be) unique and independent children.
Living in France, I find that French baby names are actually quite well suited to this. There are many gender-neutral names (prénoms mixte) that are quite popular here, whether you are expecting a baby boy or girl.
Which is not to say that the lists of top French girl names and top French boys names are falling by the wayside, but if you are looking for something special, perhaps one of these names is the answer..?
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Many popular French unisex names like “Claude” or “Jean” actually go back generations. Claude François is a famous male French musician from the 1950s, while former President Jacques Chirac also used the name for his daughter.
|Popular French |
|Meaning in English|
|Anaël||Grace of God|
|Camille||serving at the alter|
|Clarence||bright and clear|
|Claude||from the name Claudius, stuttering|
|Eden||Biblical Garden of Eden, meaning delight|
|Elie||The Lord Is My God|
|Émile||to strive or excel|
|Félice||corsican name meaning great happiness|
|Jordane||River Jordan, meaning down flowing|
|Maé||short form Mary and Maelle, meaning wished-for child|
|Sofiane||who walks fast|
Certain names like Camille or Sofiane may strike you as being female names, but in France, these are actually quite common for boys as well as girls. Camille Lacourt (male) is a famous French swimmer, while Camille Claudel (female) is a French sculptor.
The name Jules is traditionally male in France, such as Jules Verne (French writer) and Jules Ferry (French politician). But is starting to gain in popularity as a female name as with American journalist and model Jules Asner.
Félice and Candide, on the other hand, were historically male names, but are now more frequently given to baby girls today in France.
Unisex Names which change spelling
Unlike in English, the French language gender-izes nouns into male and female. For example, the chair is feminine (“la chaise“), while the world is masculine (“le monde“).
There is no rhyme or reason to this masculine-feminine allocation, much to the frustration of French-language learners. Professions also change gender like a teacher (“maître/maîtresse“) and a writer (“écrivain/écrivaine“).
So you can imagine that, in French, we also change the spelling of the name to match gender. The pronunciation however remains the same.
|Unisex||Names||Meaning in English|
|Adel||Adele||noble or elite|
|Axel||Axelle||my Father Is Peace|
|Emmanuel||Emanuelle||God with us|
|Gwénaël||Gwénaëlle||blessed and generous|
|Jean||Jeanne||God Is Gracious|
|Océan||Océane||meaning the ocean, sea|
|Pascal||Pascale||relating to Easter, Passover|
|Raphaël||Raphaëlle||he has healed|
You will notice that a lot of names come from the Bible and so names like “Marie” are often given to boys and girls as compound names. Jean-Marie is a rather common French compound name for boys, as is Marie-Lou for girls.
So feel free to play around with the combinations to pick a name that is truly unique for your special little one!
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So have you decided on a name yet? Don’t forget to check out my list of top French girl names as well as top French boy names for more ideas. And for some fun baby-related French-English flashcards head over to our Free Printables section.
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