When a far-right political journalist and possible presidential contender began talking about people having “un-French” names, there really was only one response: satire.
The humorous website Vite Mon Prénom (My Name, Quick) was set up to offer a one-click test to find out if your name is French enough, based on a repealed 1803 law, and suggest alternatives if it is considered unacceptably foreign.
The name checker, a tribute to the popular French online site Vite Ma Dose (My Jab, Quick) where people can find appointments for the Covid-19 vaccine, has thrown up some surprises.
It suggests no more Peter, who becomes Nestor; James, who becomes Jules; Rosemary, who becomes Roseline; and that Karen should henceforth be known as Carmen. Zinedine, as in Zidane, would be Antoine, and Kylian, as in Mbappé, would have to become Sylvain.
Behind the fun, however, lies a contentious proposition by Éric Zemmour, who says insisting people have “French” names would help greater integration of foreigners and their descendants.
Zemmour has singled out the names Muhammad, Kévin and Jordan as examples of those needing to be changed. Kévin, after the 7th-century Irish saint Kevin of Glendalough, is acceptable, according to Vite Mon Prénom, though Jordan – the name of one of Zemmour’s far-right rivals, Jordan Bardella of the far-right National Rally (RN), would be Jean. There have been claims Zemmour cited it to hide his real target, Islamic given names.
The 63-year-old, who was a political journalist for Le Figaro, holds convictions for inciting hatred and is best known for his TV diatribes against immigration and Islam.
Zemmour has not yet announced that he is standing in next April’s presidential election, but his supporters are said to be soliciting the necessary 500 signatures of mayors willing to put their name to his candidacy. Polls suggest that if he does, he could capture up to 10% of the vote and pose a credible threat to the RN candidate, Marine Le Pen, by splitting far-right support.
In 2016, Zemmour was lambasted after he criticised the then justice minister, Rachida Dati – who is French-born but whose parents are from north Africa – for calling her baby daughter Zohra, saying the choice was “outrageous”.
“I consider that by giving Muslim first names, you are refusing to accept the history of France,” he told French TV.
He has said that if elected he would reinstate an 1803 law, repealed in 1993, allowing only given names included in the Christian calendar of saints and from “ancient history”.
“A French man will no longer be able to call his son Muhammad,” Zemmour said, conceding that he would allow it as a middle name. He also said names imported from “Anglo-Saxon” cultures were a mistake.
Since 1993, French parents have not had a completely free hand in naming their offspring and can be overruled if officials feel the given name is “not in the child’s interest”.
The Renaud family were not allowed to call their daughter Mégane, and other parents have been refused Nutella, Fraise (Strawberry), Manhattan, and Mohammed Merah after the Toulouse terrorist.
Deamon, as well as Bâbord and Tribord (Port and Starboard) for twins were also refused.