Lezioni Francese

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Les noms en français

If someone asks you what your name is in French (Comment t’appelles-tu?), you probably know to respond with the phrase je m’appelle… (my name is…). But what’s in a name? Or, more specifically, what are the different parts of a French name?

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First there is le prénom (“first name,” literally “pre-name”), which is not to be confused with le pronom, or “pronoun” (le nom means both “name” and “noun”). This “Le Journal” video is all about first names, focusing on the most popular baby names in France: 

 

C'est un prénom qui passe bien pour une jeune fille, pour une dame.

It's a name that works well for a girl, for a woman.

Caption 15, Le Journal - Choisir un nom d'enfant

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After le prénom comes le deuxième prénom, which literally means “second first name,” i.e. “middle name.” Finally, there’s le nom de famille (“family name” or “surname”). 

Watch out for the word surnom, which is a faux ami of “surname.” Un surnom is “a nickname,” and its verbal form surnommer means “to nickname”: 

 

Et enfin, les habitants de la Butte aux Cailles sont surnommés les Cailleux.

And finally, the residents of the Butte aux Cailles are nicknamed the "Cailleux."

Caption 35, Voyage dans Paris - La Butte aux Cailles

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Surnommer comes from the verb nommer (to name, to call). When you make nommer reflexive (se nommer), it means “to be named” or “to be called”: 

 

Ce système de redistribution "intelligent" se nomme "smart grid".

This "intelligent" redistribution system is called "smart grid."

Caption 18, Canal 32 - Le futur de l’éolien se joue dans l'Aube

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You can also use se nommer to refer to a person’s name, but it’s a bit more formal in that context than its synonym s’appeler:

Ma mère se nomme Louise.

My mother is named Louise. 

There are other types of names besides your birth name (nom de naissance). If you’re a performer, for example, you might adopt a new name for your stage persona: 

 

C'est quoi ton nom de scène?

What's your stage name?

Caption 41, Actu Vingtième - Le Repas des anciens

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Or, if you prefer the pen to the stage, you might take on a nom de plume:

"Voltaire" était le nom de plume de François-Marie Arouet. 

"Voltaire" was the pen name of François-Marie Arouet. 

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In a previous lesson on the word mademoiselle, we talked about some recent changes that were made to the vocabulary used in French government documents. Among them is the abolition of the phrase nom de jeune fille (maiden name) in favor of nom de famille, and the phrase nom d’époux/nom d’épouse (married name) in favor of nom d’usage (used name).

So now, if you ever have the pleasure of filling out paperwork in French, you shouldn’t have to worry about writing your names in the wrong boxes! 

Vocabulary

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