Probably my favorite naming mantra is “inspiration everywhere.” I’m always on the look out for great names — and anything and everything that could be a great name.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, I came across a lot of such inspiration while in France for a month.
Here are just some of those which really jumped out at me and made me go “ooooh!”
Alençon. A town in Normandy famous for its lace. The name is probably Breton meaning “fort of the Alans” — a “barbarian” tribe which invaded Gaul in the fourth and fifth century.
Ao. A visit to Paléosite near Saintes introduced us to the lovely Ao, the “last Neanderthal” of Jacques Malaterre’s film Ao, le dernier Néandertal, based on a novel by Marc Klapczynski. Pronounced like “how” without the “h.”
Blanche Neige. French for “Snow White.” Encountered many times during our visit to Disneyland Paris, including as the name of a boat on one of my favorite rides Le Pays de Contes des Fées (known as Storybook Land Canal Boats in the US) — thrill seeker that I am . Blanche was a popular name in Victorian times which has yet to be re-embraced, while Neige has a very contemporary ring to it.
Callas. A little village in the Var region of Provence, through which he had to drive to get pretty much anywhere on an road with impossibly tight hair-pin bends. Inevitably it brought to mind the great Maria every time.
Charente. A lovely French region of gentle vine-clad hills, where I’ve spent a bit of time now, past and present. Named after the river which meanders through. In Roman times, this was known as Carantonus, from Common Celtic *karant- “friend.” Carantonus was also almost certainly the name of a river-God.
Eiffel. The magnificent tower named after Gustave Eiffel, its creator. Eiffel comes from Eifel, a region of Germany.
Élysée. The Avenue des Champs Élysées is one of the world’s most famous roads, named after the Elysian fields of classical mythology. Élysé(e) is simply the French for “Elysian” often translated as “blessed.”
Hennessy. The name of one of my favorite brandies. We first visited the distillery in the ’90s and on this trip planned to go to my other favorite Rémy Martin. Unfortunately, the day we went to Cognac was their last day of tours for the public of the season and we’d just missed the last, so we ended up at Hennessy again. Hennessy is what it looks like — an Irish surname, meaning “descendant of Angus.”
Lô. Saint-Lô is another town in Normandy, named after St Lô. Lô is usually identified with the sixth-century St Laud, whose name is shaped to appear to be from the Latin laudo “I praise.” Personally, I’d put money on Laud really being connected with Lud, and Lô with Lugus…
Louvre. Possibly the most famous museum and art gallery in the world, inhabiting a former royal palace, which dates back to the twelfth century. It’s meaning is unclear. My favorite theory is that it derives from l’œuvre “the masterpiece,” a testimony to the fact that even the very first Louvre on the site was a masterpiece.
Nea. Neo is in use — why not Nea for girls? We encountered it in France at Paléosite again, as the name of Ao’s daughter (and pronounced “NAY-a” rather than “NEE-a”).
Ondée. French for “heavy shower”; we drove through a few of these. Connected with onde “wave” and ultimately from the Latin unda.
Otocilia. The name of a Gaulish woman, surviving on a Roman-era gravestone, on display in the museum in Saintes.
Rémy. Crossed our path more than once, both in the name of the cognac, and the town of St Rémy-de-Provence. ‘Tis the French form of the Latin name Remigius from remex “oarsman.”
Sirène. Another from Disneyland. La Petite Sirène is the French version of The Little Mermaid, featured fairly prominently in Le Pays de Contes des Fées ride.
Tuilerie. Les Tuileries are the famous gardens next to the Louvre, which actually used to belong to the lost Tuileries Palace (knocked down in 1883). We had lunch in one of its cafes and ice cream next to the great fountain, with a view of the Louvre in one direction, and the Arc de Triomphe in the other. Magnifique! The word means “tilery” — i.e. a place where tiles were made.
Vigne. The French for “vine.” In both Provence and Charente, vines were everywhere. Harvest had begun early, but we saw many a bunch of ripe grapes still on the vine, as well as being harvested by hand and machine. In Charente, the sound of harvesting of vine and other crops lasted after dark most nights.
Voyage. Journey’s already in the US top 1000, so why not Voyage? People said “bonne route” to us as we hit the road, rather than “bon voyage”, but “voyage” — said the English or French way — certainly has interesting name potential…