French Language/Middle names in France
I hope you can help me -- I have a question not about language, but about naming customs in France. I hope that's okay!
My question is -- I met a Russian recently who told me that middle names, as we understand them in the UK, were not used in France, and instead the French had "two given names" (and the second given name was generally only used for official documents). I don't understand how this is different from the concept of middle names we have in the UK. Was this Russian man just completely wrong, or am I missing something? Is there any difference that you know of between the way we think of middle names in the UK, and the way you think of middle names in France?
Thank you very much.
ANSWER: Hello Bella,
I do not really know what the concept of middle name in UK is, but I can explain the usage in France. People can have a one or several names or just a first name, it depends. The middle name(s) (if there are not part of a compound first name like Marie-Rose or Jean-Jacques) are only used in official documents (for passports, weddings, official papers or official exams for instance). People are not named with their complete name.
These additional first names are generally the names of members of the family. For instance, my middle name is the name of a deceased aunt I have never known. It is a kind of tribute to a former member of a family.
That is the reason why these additional names are somehow old-fashioned. I have recently attended a wedding, and when the mayor pronounced the complete name of the bride, everybody laughed because not only it was very long, but the names were so old-fashioned that there was a discrepancy with the modern and fashionista girl she is.
This usage is less frequent now, I know many people who have no middle name.
I hope this helps
And I am quite curious of the usage in the UK. If you can let me know I am interested.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Hi Caro,
Thanks so much for your answer – and for responding so quickly!
The usage of middle names in the UK is very similar to what you describe in France – people can have one or several given names, and only one name (usually the first name) is used in daily life. The middle name, or names, would only be used for official documents or wedding ceremonies (or sometimes Facebook pages to distinguish themselves from people with the same first name and surname – for instance, there might be many people called Charles Jones, but not so many called Charles Elliott Jones).
The main difference, I would say, is that though traditionally middle names in the UK were chosen to honour a relative (especially a deceased one), this is less common in modern times. Middle names are chosen for a variety of reasons – because the parents like a certain name, or to honour a living friend, or just because they think the middle name sounds good with the first name (for instance, my middle name is just a name my parents thought sounded good with my first name. It has no special meaning). Of course, middle names are still chosen in the UK because parents want to honour a relative, but in my experience, this reason is no more common than the other reasons.
Also, I would not say the practice of middle names is declining in the UK. My sister works in the admissions department of a university, and she says the majority of applicants have more than one given name. Though there are plenty of applicants who do only have one given name, it is far more common for applicants to have at least two. I personally don't know anyone who doesn't have at least two given names.
So, this is how middle names are used in the UK! Would you be kind enough to answer me one more question? How many given names would you say is most common in France? In the UK, it's most common just to have two – for example, Charles Elliott. Is the same true in France, or is more than two given names more common?
Thank you again for your help!
Thank you for this detailed explanation. I have learnt something!
Concerning your question, I do not know. In my family the tradition is to give one middle name. Some friends of mine have the two names of their two grand mothers / fathers. Except the bride I mentionned before, I do not know someone else who has more than 2 middle names.
I hope this helps