With so many elegant names to choose from, I narrowed my list down to those that also sound nice in English. For example, I love the name Amandine in French (pronounced Ah-mahn-deen), but it just ain’t gonna work in Australia (think Uh-man-dyne). Same goes with the popular Fleur (‘flower’) – so pretty in French, but not my cup of tea pronounced the English way.
A word of warning before you proceed: diacritic marks such as the accents that are so common in French are not allowed in many states in Australia. I know this because I had to spell my daughter’s middle name Fae instead of Fée (meaning ‘fairy’) because the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages flat-out refused it. You could just drop the accent of course, but in our case ‘Fee’ sounded like an unpleasant expense, so it just didn’t work. I strongly recommend checking with your state’s BDM before settling on a name you might not be able to use in its original form.
Best French baby names for girls
A popular name for girls of my generation in my native Québec, Ariane is delicately feminine with just the right balance of exoticism.
Although Coralie might not roll off the tongue quite so easily in English, it immediately brings to mind a tropical, sun-drenched, coral-filled ocean paradise.
Don’t let the negative mental association you might have with ghetto-chic Monique put you off – this is a strong female name with an uber-cool nickname, Dom.
Emmanuelle is a unisex sobriquet (the male version is spelt Emmanuel) that comes with a kick-arse short form, Manu. The only problem is that English speakers struggle with the pointy French “U” sound and generally say “Manoo”. Ah well, you can’t have it all.
I’d be lying if I said this was a modern, cutting-edge name in French-speaking countries, but it just sounds so cool in English – think Bruce Willis’s adorable girlfriend in Pulp Fiction. Nickname? Fab. Winning.
While the English version, Eloise, isn’t uncommon in Australia, I love the original French spelling with all the lovely accents. For simplicity’s sake, however, you might want to stick to the anglicised form with its range of cute nicknames including Elle, Ellie and Lola.
Once again, I won’t try to make you believe that Josiane is currently topping baby name lists in francophone countries, but I love its cheerful, bubbly charm.
A feminised version of the word for Christmas (Noël), its ‘elle’ ending gives it the same soft, feminine edge as names like Elle, Belle and Annabelle. Bonus: the accent can easily be dropped without affecting the pronunciation.
I might be biased because two of my beautiful friends back home carry this name, but it sounds fresh and crisp as a mountain breeze to my ears.
The French version of Vivian was chosen by Brangelina for one half of their twin set (her brother is Knox). You have to admit it sounds so much more glamorous than its old-school anglo counterpart.
Best French baby names for boys
Try to forget about the slightly nerdy, bespectacled image Antoine has in English and see it for the cool French name it really is. Whatever you do, PLEASE don’t spell it Antwon or Antwan (please).
Confession: Claude hasn’t been cool since my dad’s generation. But don’t let that stop you – it sounds quite chic in English if you ask moi.
As long as it doesn’t bother you if people stumble over the pronunciation a little (it’s Ay-tyen with only two syllables, not Ay-tee-en), this is a really nice choice.
Gauthier is a great example of the surname-as-first-name trend in French. The popularity of Belgian-Australian singer Gotye (which is pronounced the same way) could give it legs in this country.
Another entry that carries slightly geeky associations in English (Jerome was the patron saint of students and librarians FFS!), Jérôme is cooler in French – promise.
This poetic yet masculine moniker tops my list of personal favourites for boys, but my Aussie husband said, “Is that a misspelling of Luke?” when he saw it. Le sigh – back to the drawing board.
Marcel had been collecting dust for quite a while, but it seems to be gaining some traction again in French-speaking countries. The fact that Oscar-winning French actress Marion Cotillard named her boy Marcel in 2011 could have something to do with it.
It’s the French version of boring old Peter and it means ‘rock’, but it’s still très cool, n’est-ce-pas, mes chéries?
When Aussie friends of mine named their son Remy a couple of years ago, all I could think was, “Damn it! Why didn’t I think of that first?” Then I remembered I don’t even have a boy. They’ve left off the accent, which makes a lot more sense in Australia. Tops name, I say.
The French version of Roderick will instantly identify you as a Francophile. If that sounds like a bad thing to you, stay tuned for the next instalment of my cultural baby names series.
Does your child have a French name?