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, France
French Names


French names typically consist of one or multiple given names, and a surname. Usually one given name and the surname are used in a person's daily life, with the other given names used mainly in official documents. Middle names, in the English sense, do not exist. Initials are not used to represent second or further given names.

Traditionally, most French people were given names from the Roman Catholic calendar of saints. However, given names for French citizens from immigrant communities are often from their own culture, and in modern France it has become increasingly common to use first names of (international) English or other foreign origin. Almost all traditional given names are gender-specific. Females are often given names that are feminine forms of traditional masculine French names. The prevalence of given names follows trends, with some names being popular in some years, and some considered out-of-fashion. Compound given names are not uncommon. (The second part may be normally used by the opposite sex; the gender of the compound is determined by the first part.) First names are chosen by the child's parents. Nowadays, there are no legal a priori constraints on the choice of names, though this was not always the case as recently as a few decades ago. To change a given name, a request can be made before a court, but except in a few specific cases, one must prove a legitimate interest for the change.

In France, until 2005, children were required by law to take the surname of their father. If the father was unknown, the child was given the family name of the mother. Since 2005, parents can give their children the name of either their father, mother, or a hyphenation of both although no more than two names can be hyphenated. In cases of disagreement, both parents' family names are used and hyphenated in alphabetical order, with only one word, the first surname, taken from each parent (if one of them already has a hyphenated surname). The ratio of the number of family names to the population is high in France, due to the fact that most surnames had many orthographic and dialectal variants, which were then registered as separate names. Contrary to the practice of some other countries, French women do not legally change names when they marry; however, it is customary that they take their husband's name as a "usage name". This distinction is important because many official documents use the person's maiden, or legal or true surname, rather than their usage name. In some cases, people change their real name to their stage name, but truly changing one's last name, as opposed to adopting a usage name, is quite complex.

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