Are you a man or a woman? Does your first name reflect that?
Some first names are really straightforward and you know right away upon hearing the name if the person is a guy or a girl. Let’s take Diane, for example. I guess a male Diane is out there somewhere but 99.9% of the Dianes walking around are female. And Thomas is pretty much always male. But it’s not always so straightforward in French. A handful of French first names work for both sexes and I’m going to tell you which ones to watch out for….
French first names that work for men and women
I have a friend who works for a company based in France. She often emails her French colleagues for business-related requests but one day, her colleague Dominique had to call her to set something up. Email just wouldn’t suffice. So my friend answered the phone and was taken aback when Dominique turned out to be a man. For months my friend had pictured a female Dominique in her head and they both got quite a kick out of her mix-up. Up until I came to France, Dominique sounded like a girl’s name to me. Like Monique. A guy would be called Dominic in the US, right? A NICK not a NEEK at the end. But not so in France.
I think French names sound pretty cool but they can really mess with a foreigner.
Here are a bunch of French first names that are for both sexes. They’re pronounced exactly the same. In French, if you’re just speaking to someone about a friend or family member and you hear the name (but don’t see it written, which helps sometimes), there’s usually context in the conversation to help you figure out if someone is talking about a man or a women — like “ma collègue Dominique.” Ma is feminine so a French speaker would know that in this scenario that Dominique is a woman. For a man, they’d say “mon collègue.” But sometimes there’s no context and you don’t see the name written out.
Let’s take a look at some French first names that are pronounced the same way for both sexes (male // female):
Daniel/Danielle (Tom has trouble differentiating between these two in English. In French, they are pronounced exactly the same)
Dominique for both men and women
Emmanuel // Emmanuelle
Frédéric // Frédérique
Gwenaël // Gwenaëlle
Joël // Joëlle
Marcel // Marcelle
Michel // Michèle
Pascal // Pascale
René // Renée
NOTE: Usually the female version of the name has an “e” or “le” at the end, so if you see it written, that’s will tell you if the person is male or female.
When French first names trick you
As an American, some French first names might trick you into thinking the person is of the opposite sex. Take note of these French first names:
- Laurence is a woman. (I thought this was a guy’s name, like Lawrence. Nope!)
- Yves is a guy (pronounced like Eve in English, totally thought this was a girl.)
- Loïs (pronounced low-ees, is a guy’s name.)
And a total aside about names, I recently heard the French name Victoire and I think I want to change my name to Victoire. Sounds super cool to me. But then again I like the name Nicole and Tom has informed me that it’s for old ladies. Oh well.
In English, Leslie and Avery come to mind as first names that work for both sexes. What other English or French first names work for both sexes or have surprised you?
Ever get into a sticky situation over French first names or names in general?
NOTE: In France, if you ask someone their name (nom) they’re going to tell you their last name. If you want to know their first name it’s called a prénom.