France Project Guidelines for Name Fields

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Guidelines on Names

The following naming conventions do not apply to French nobles. For French aristocrats, use the Name Fields for European Aristocrats naming conventions.


Use the prefix field for such titles as Docteur, Prof. and for military ranks such as Colonel, Général, etc. It can also be used for religious titles such as Cardinal. Do not use it for noble titles. Titles such as Seigneur, Comte, Marquis, Prince etc. should go into the nickname field.


This field will rarely be used for French people. French people in general do not use Junior or I, II, III ordinals.

First Name, Middle Name and Preferred Name

Forenames, or Prénoms

All given names up to and including the preferred name should go in the Proper First Name field. If you do not know what the preferred name was (this will often be the case for 18th to mid-19th century profiles), put all given names in the Proper First Name field.

Many 18th century girls were called Marie followed by another name, which was likely (but not always) the call name. Put both names in the Proper First Name field. The case is similar with Anne and with the male name Jean.

Preferred name, or Prénom usuel

This is the name used in everyday life. For someone with multiple names, it can be very difficult to establish which was the preferred names. It is quite frequent that the preferred name is not one of the given names at birth at all. Starting from 1831, censuses may be very helpful.

Hyphenated names

The use of hyphens changes from one record to another with the preferences of the clerks who wrote the records, and it is difficult to establish a clear guideline until about the 1940s, when compound names became very fashionable and the use of hyphens more systematic. A hyphenated name counts as just one name. Jean Baptiste is one name and the two parts of the name should not be in different fields.

Middle name

There is no "middle name" concept in France. If you are sure of what someone's preferred name was, additional given names after the usual name may be pushed to the middle name field. Otherwise use the "No middle name" radio button.

Gender of given names

Some names may look similar to Anglo-saxon names but not have the same gender. Other names saw their use change over time. Here is a list, to be completed:

  • Claude, Dominique, Camille are used for both men and women.
  • Laurence and Valentine are feminine.
  • Jean is always male.
  • Anne could be used for men (though it is predominantly female).
  • Marie is often found as one of a man's given name, sometimes as first name, though it will rarely be the call name.
  • Jean-Marie is a man's name.
  • Marie-Josèphe is feminine. Marie-Joseph is indecise. In some areas (near the frontier with Hainaut), the name "Joseph" used to be included in all names, for boys and girls, well into the 19th century.
  • The names Philippe, Eustache, Ambroise, Hilaire, Étienne, Antoine, and even Guillaume could be used for women up to the 18th century. They are now exclusively masculine.

Family Names

The spelling of surnames was not definitively fixed before the middle of the 19th century. At this point however it became very strict, and errors were always officially corrected, which can be seen in the records. Put the variants in the Other Last Names field.

de, du, de la, le... Sometimes these articles are separated from the rest of the name (ex. de La Rue, Le Roux) and sometimes they are all together (Delarue, Leroux). Again, this was not set before the middle of the 19th century. Use the style you see on the records. Do not use the mixed caps style (DuPont, LeMarchand....) this style is not used in France.

Saint, St, St. : If the family name starts with "Saint", write it in full. Do not use "St.". Use the hyphen if it is in the records.

Current Last Name for married women : a woman's legal name is, and always was, her maiden name and it is the name that is used on all records, including parish records as well as census records (up to the end of the 19th century). You can put the married name in the Current Last Name field if you are sure it is the name the person used in everyday life. Otherwise put the married name in the Other Last Names field.

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What is the protocol for listing Dit names for French ancestors? Should it be added as a variant?
posted by Lauren Millerd

Categories: France | France Project