Nutella. Prince William. Mini Cooper. What do these have in common? They’re all baby names that have been forbidden in France.
Like many countries, France has rules restricting the names parents can legally give their children. In 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte decreed that French babies must have French names, which at the time meant the names of saints in the Roman Catholic calendar (Pierre, Marie, etc.) and later included the names of historical and mythological figures like Achille and Diane, names with regional significance a la Celtic names in Brittany and foreign baby names like James.
The list of options expanded until, in 1993, parents received the right to choose any name for their child. French officials, however, retain the power to reject a name if they decide it goes against the best interests of the child ― by subjecting them to ridicule, for instance. (The United States, by contrast, has pretty lenient naming laws. The few existing restrictions vary from state to state and typically involve limiting character length.)
Here are 17 baby names that’ve been rejected by courts in France over the years.
In 2015, a court in the city of Valenciennes ruled that a couple could not name their daughter Nutella. When the parents failed to show up on their court date, the judge renamed the then 4-month-old baby Ella.
“The name ‘Nutella’ given to the child is the trade name of a spread,” the court’s official decision read, adding that it is “contrary to the child’s interest” to be named Nutella, as it “can only lead to teasing or disparaging thoughts.”
In 2012, a judge in Amiens ruled that a couple could not name their son MJ ― an homage to Michael Jackson. The parents rejected the proposed alternative “Emjy,” so the boy was renamed Jean, his middle name. His father called it “a total injustice.”
After the court rejected the name Prince William, the same couple in Perpignan asked to name their son Mini Cooper. This request was also denied.
In 1983, a court in Poitiers ruled against parents seeking to name their daughter Manhattan.
In 2015, a couple in the town of Raismes received a negative verdict after they tried to name their daughter Fraise, which is French for “strawberry.” The parents said they wanted a name that was “original, not common.”
But the judge argued that the name Fraise would lead to mockery, particularly in light of the slang phrase “ramène ta fraise,” which can mean “get over here” or “butt in.” The baby girl was renamed Fraisine, a 19th century name that the judge approved.
In 2009, a couple from Oise sought to name their son Titeuf, the titular hero of a popular comic series. A local judge ruled against this name, and the parents appealed. The higher court issued the same verdict, noting that although the character is sympathetic, he is a naive fool who makes readers laugh and therefore this name could subject the child to ridicule.
The Montpellier Court of Appeal ruled in 2006 that a couple could not name their baby Joyeux, which means “happy” in French. The court cited the “whimsical nature” of the name as something that could create problems for the child.
The couple who wanted to name their baby Joyeux also tried for Patriste, a phonetic take on “pas triste” which is French for “not sad.” The court did not approve of this name either, but said the child could be named Soleil, or “sun.”
Fleur de Marie
When Gerard and Marie-Patrice Guillot welcomed a baby girl in 1983, they wanted to name her Fleur de Marie after a character in Eugène Sue’s 19th-century novel Mystères de Paris. After multiple courts rejected this name, the couple appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, which ultimately ruled in favor of the French government in its 1996 decision.
In 1990, the Rennes Court of Appeal ruled that a couple could not name their son Ravi ― a name of Indian origin that incidentally translates to “delighted” in French. In 1993, their subsequent appeal was dismissed on the grounds that the name was of “excessive fantasy” and contrary to the interests of the child.
In 1993, French officials turned down parents’ request to name their daughter Babar ― the title character in the series of popular children’s books about a cartoon elephant.
In 1980, a family in Brittany chose the name Gloarnic for their baby, citing a connection to their regional heritage. But courts rejected the name, as there was no historical evidence of it, and it appeared the parents made the name up.
In 1996, the Rennes Court of Appeal ruled that a couple could not name their daughter Folavril ― the name of a well-known fragrance ― because it went against the best interests of the child. “Avril” is French for “April,” while “folle” (or “fou”) means “crazy.” The child was instead named Zoé.
Babord (Port) and Tribord (Starboard)
A couple in Brittany reportedly wanted to name their twins Babord and Tribord ― French for “port” and “starboard.” Their nautical dreams were dashed, however, as the court rejected these names.
A court in Quimper ruled in 2017 that parents weren’t allowed to use the character ñ (a lowercase n with a tilde) in their baby’s name. Therefore, their chosen name for their son ― Fañch ― was not permitted.
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