France has a rich history and a romantic language. It is a language spoken by 76 million people worldwide. Paris, the cosmopolitan capital city, has played an important role in literature, film, cuisine, art, and fashion. It’s historic, yet modern; iconic and beautiful. The chic culture has lots to offer, including inspiration for baby names.
Some French names are merely variations of their English counterparts, but our list is distinctly French. Most of these names have foreign naming conventions, so you probably won’t find them on ready-made personalized souvenirs.
You won’t find them in Top 500 name lists in America either. But what they do have is a classic beauty, poetic styles, and meanings you can appreciate.
If you are a parent-to-be seeking name inspiration, take a look at these 10 elegant French names.
10 Mireille – pronounced “meer-AY” (girl name)
Mireille may not be as pervasive as its English counterpart Mary, but it is a fine alternative. The name means “to admire,” a fitting moniker for your future baby girl.
This name can be pronounced in a couple of ways: “mee-RAY” or “meer-AY.” Pronounced correctly, the R in “RAY” is a guttural R. In other words, it’s a French R that sounds like a gargle rolling off the tongue.
There is one aspect you may not love about Mireille; you’ll probably need to sound it out to anyone who reads it. If constant correction isn’t a deal breaker, this is a lovely name for a baby girl.
9 Marvel – pronounced “MAR-vel” (unisex name)
Unisex names are gaining in popularity, and Marvel certainly fits the bill. Comic book fans will recognize the name from the Marvel company. Your baby will not likely change from a mere mortal to a superhero, but with a name like Marvel, they are sure to become an interesting character.
Marvel means “miracle.” The character from the film “The Hunger Games” is male, but the name is given worldwide to both girls and boys. This name hasn’t soared to the height of popularity but it is favored in America due to the comic book company. It certainly deserves considerable attention.
We love the name Marvel for its modern sound. Your baby may not inherit powers to fly, invisibility, or X-ray vision, but they are sure to be a superhuman with a cool name.
8 Anais – pronounced “ah-nah-EES” (girl name)
Do you like the name Anna, but dislike how familiar it is? It’s a pretty name, but let’s face it—almost everyone knows, at least, one Anna. Consider Anais as an elegant alternative.
The French say ah-nah-EES. You can also say ah-NYE-is, ah-NAY, or ah-NAYS. No matter how you pronounce it, Anais has a je ne sais quoi you can’t deny.
The name means “grace.” In ancient mythology, the Iranian goddess Anahita was a symbol of fruitfulness, healing, and knowledge. Greece and Italy took the name and formed it into Anaitis, which eventually stemmed into the French version Anais.
The association with Anais Nin, the American writer born in Paris, definitely gives the name some art cred. It’s also a popular brand of perfume. With an airy, feminine sound, and a timeless charm, it’s a wonder why this name has gone into hibernation.
7 Dior – pronounced “dee-ORR” (unisex name)
If you’re jumping on the gender-neutral bandwagon, Dior has become a fashionable choice. The name means “golden,” originating from the French word “d’or.”
Dior was originally used as a last name. When it became a first name, it was intended for girls. It appears on name charts for boys, but be forewarned; the name is more popular with girls by a 4 to 1 margin.
Though it is associated with French fashion designer Christian Dior, it’s no longer just the name of luxury goods. Justin Dior Combs is the name of the first born son of hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs.
If using a brand name isn’t your style, consider it as a middle name. Dior is a chic name that exudes elegance and strength.
6 Coty – pronounced “KO-tee” (male name)
Coty is a reinvention of the similar-sounding Cody. The name began as a French surname. It originates from the French word “cote” meaning coast. The name literally translates to “small slope” or river bank.
Some people debate whether Coty better suits a boy or a girl. The statistics for the name Coty typically only reports male data. The name is not prominent with famous people either. Though it continues to decline as a given name, it remains popular among surnames.
When a name falls in popularity, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. All names peak and then decline. Some wallow in virtual anonymity for decades before making a comeback. Though it’s no longer a frequently heard name, Coty has a contemporary feel and a French flair.
5 Bijou – pronounced “bee-ZHOO” (girl name)
Bijou is derived from the French word for “jewel.” Along with Pearl, Ruby, Jade, and Crystal, Bijou is the Parisienne version of a beautiful gemstone. You can also spell the name Bijoux.
This French name could be tricky for Anglophones. People who are new to the name may say “bee-ZOO” instead of the correct “bee-SHOE.” Prepare yourself because you may have to spell and pronounce the name over and over again.
We love Bijou because it’s luxurious and eccentric. The French accent makes it sound magnificently vintage. If you’re looking for the perfect and precious name for a baby girl, offer this one to your little “gem.”
4 Madeleine – pronounced “mahd-LEHN” (girl name)
The origin of this name comes from "woman from Magdala” or Mary of Magdala, otherwise known as Mary Magdalene. Over time, the name formed in Maudelyn, and continued to transform into many other variations around the world. The French-sounding two syllable version “mahd-LEHN”can also be pronounced as “mahd-a-LEHN.” It has become a regal, sophisticated version of Madison.
Besides the distinctly French given name, Madeleines are also shelled-shaped French pastries, made with finely ground almonds and lemon zest. There are also a series of children’s books that bears the name Madeline. Popular American namesake includes Madeleine Albright, the first female Secretary of State. Also, the daughters of talk show host Stephen Colbert and actress Lea Thompson are both named Madeleine.
With its feminine quality and relative uniqueness, Madeleine is a fantastic French name. It has an element that seems to impart nobility. Even if you use the American pronunciation “mad-a-LEIN” or “mad-a-LYNN,” your little girl will thank you for it.
3 Pierre – pronounced “PYAIR” (boy name)
This is the only name on our list that ranks high on the name charts; at least, it ranks high in France. Pierre remains in the Top 100 list in France for boys, and yet the name barely makes the Top 1000 list in the U.S. In France, Pierre is a culturally defining name. It comes from the English name “Peter,” meaning stone or “rock.” It’s no wonder why this name suggests a strong, rock-solid personality.
Perhaps its popularity is due to its connection to famous people. History buffs will recognize this name from the former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Pierre Curie, and fashion designer Pierre Cardin.
We love Pierre because it sounds debonair, refined and cultured. For these reasons, Pierre is a great choice.
2 Camille – pronounced “kah-MEEY” (unisex name)
Camille is not your grandparent’s name anymore. Though it has a classic vibe to it, Camille is far from dated. It’s just waiting for a comeback. It is the highest ranked name on our list, sitting at position #250 on the American name chart for girls.
From Latin, the name translates to “young ceremonial student.” Despite the obscure meaning, the name became wildly popular in 1936. This was due to the film of the same name starring Greta Garbo, based on a novel by Alexandre Dumas.
North Americans may find it odd that Camille is considered a unisex name in France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. In France, the double L is pronounced with a Y sound. Both women and men pronounced it “kah-MEEY”. In English-speaking countries, the name is pronounced “kah-MEEL.”
Camille has had a long history as both a masculine and feminine name. It will suit your child at any age. Let’s hope it never goes out of style again.
1 Jolie – pronounced “zho-LEE” (girl name)
Though this is a French word, the name is not used in France. It is considered a word, not a name. The word means “pretty or beautiful.” Jolie is the feminine form, and joli is masculine. Also pronounced “joe-LEE,” another variation of the spelling is Joliet, pronounced the same way with a silent T.
For those who find it odd to name your daughter ”beautiful,” think of it as the Italian name Bella or the Scottish name Bonnie. It can also mean a beautiful personality, not just a physical appearance.
Actress Angelina Jolie has given this name visibility. Jolie was originally her middle name, but she adopted it as a surname for the stage. Despite the celebrity’s popularity, it is fairly uncommon. Jolie fell out of the top 1000 list for girls in 2008.
The name might not be rising in the name ranks, but it is a classic. “Ma Jolie” is the name of a Picasso painting. It is playfully feminine, and it’s as pretty as its meaning.
Whether you want to honor your heritage or just love the sound, there are plenty of French names just waiting to be discovered. Before you know it, you’ll have French fever, too.