Some days, the y-axis feels like my enemy. I’ll be tracing a name’s past popularity on a graph, when the history cuts off abruptly at a point 100 or so years ago. Too many questions about the past are left unanswered. Now, though, we have an opportunity to take a deeper dive into name history—as long as the name in question is French.
The genealogy site geneanet.org boasts a massive collection of data about the French population, pooled from researchers across the country. They’ve tabulated the popularity of given names in their data set and made the stats available to graph at a click. While plenty of French parenting sites offer popularity charts starting with the year 1900, Geneanet’s reach all the way back to the year 1600. They also display popularity as a percentage of births, rather than a raw number of babies, to allow better comparison across time periods.
Exploring the four-century charts gave me a new perspective on many traditional names. I was fascinated to watch some names evolving into their modern forms, as the lingering use of medieval versions like Jehan (John) give way to familiar French names like Jean. Other names revealed surprises in their pasts. For instance, the name Adonis looks thoroughly modern in a 1900-present graph, like this one from the French parenting site magicmaman.com:
But zooming out tells a different story. The blue segment of this timeline corresponds to the period covered by the magicmaman.com chart:
From this longer view, Adonis looks more like an antique revival. I also appreciated a fresh perspective on Charlotte and Mathilde, two names that were unquestionably antique revivals in 1990s France, apparently quite similar in history:
The bird’s eye view paints a different historical picture:
And where else can you spot a 400-year-old celebrity baby name trend? Check out the spike in the name Armand in 1629, the year Prince Armand de Bourbon was born:
I hope you’ll enjoy exploring this treasure trove of name history yourself. If you make interesting discoveries, please come back and share them in the comments section here!
Special thanks to Allan Tulchin for pointing me to this topic