You have discovered, finally, that you have French ancestors in your family tree. Before getting used to French family names, you think their given names will be a piece of cake. After all, Jeanne is for Jane, Pierre is for Peter, Jean is for John, Hélène is for, well, Helen. Well, let me tell you one thing. You’re in for a fun ride!
A bit of History
Your ancestors did not have the choice you have today to name your child. It was not possible to name your latest son Crew (Équipe in French). It had to be names of saints or persons from the Bible. First bending, you may encounter names given after a local Saint. I have an ancestor whose second given name was Pacifique. Her family was not living near the sea, but Pacifique was a local saint. So, this would be your first hint. Whenever you meet a ‘strange’ given name, take a look at local history.
Children were usually given two, three, four, or more names. Usually, it was the name of the godfather for a boy or the godmother for a girl. Then it could be the name of a local saint, a family member, etc.
Compound names like we know them nowadays (Jean-Louis, Marie-Anne …) did not really exist back then. If you read the certificates carefully, you will not find any hyphens.
A bit of particularity
It was common to give a child the name of his/her late brother/sister, so be careful with the dates. You can find two birth certificates for Marie Boudarel within a two years span.
Of course, some family names are also given names. So be ready to search for your ancestor Claude as CLAUDE…
You may find the given name Marie in front of Jean Pierre Michel for a boy. It was a means to protect the child.
Also, you may find Gillette, the feminine name for Gilles, but there was a time where Gilles was used both for a boy or a girl, like Nicol(e). So, make sure you read those certificates carefully!
A bit of fun
Of course, there is Claude (CLAUDE), but there are also ancestors who have no clue on how to name their children and chose the given name Pierre for their nine, living, sons.
You can also have an idea of their political view. Giving the name of Reine during the French Revolution is very daring, especially when you know the family name is de France!
Last but not least, do not forget that your ancestors are elusive! Your 4x great-grand-father was named Pierre François Charles, he married under the given name, François Charles Pierre, he was Pierre for his two first children, François for the third one, Charles for the last one, and was buried as Jacques.
Given names in France may not easy your research, but it’s such so much fun!
Written by Sophie Boudarel