04 November 2007

France: Name trends and more

The New York Times has a great story on names in France, covering first name popularity, demographics, socio-economic class and profiling.

The issue appears so urgent that President Nicolas Sarkozy felt the need to create a Ministry of Immigration and National Identity, and the government has passed a law authorizing DNA testing to establish family links among would-be immigrants.

The discussion of names is much lighter in tone. It turns out that names featuring “a” are hot for girls (Clara, Sarah, Léa), as are “o” ones for boys (Mathéo, Enzo, Hugo). Scratch a bit deeper, and race and class quickly rear their heads. After all, names can provide an immediate indication of someone’s background in a country that does not include ethnicity in its national statistics, and where salaries are rarely discussed in public.

Demographer Guy Desplanques says that second-generation French immigrants are opting toward integration and combining ethnic and French names.

As in the US, trends in popular culture (TV and music) have influenced naming patterns other than the traditional French line-up.

An educator quoted in the story says she can guess at the family profiles of children named Maxime, Louise, Kevin or Lolita, with the first two of higher economic status families and the others of working or lower-middle-class status.

Profiling can hurt job-seekers, the story says. Some studies indicate that foreign-sounding names are less likely to be hired. But in France, some postings request jobseekers to provide personal information, such as marital status, and to provide photographs with resumes.

Read the story here.

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