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How are the first names of the descendants of immigrants chosen in France?

Illustration of a newborn at the maternity ward. – PHILIPPE HUGUEN / AFP

  • While immigrants gave first names to their children, the majority of their grandchildren have a common name in France.
  • This illustrates a fashion effect, but also a concern to protect them from possible discrimination.
  • Other families choose names that work in both cultures.

Call her baby Victor or Nassim? Maria or Lucie? A dilemma for immigrants * whose children are born in France. They sometimes hesitate between a name very common in France or another, which would reflect more their origins. A study by the INED (National Institute of Demographic Studies) published this Wednesday shows that while first generation immigrants gave names recalling their origins to their children, the majority of immigrant grandchildren have a common name. in France, which reflects the dominant tastes.

"These parents choose a first name in the spirit of the times, which can be inspired by a film character, series, the name of a star … Hence the frequency of international names, next to French old names again to fashion and original names, "observes Patrick Simon, researcher at INED. Enzo, Laura, Thomas, Lea, Lucas, Nicolas, Ethan, Mila, for example, are often awarded in recent years. But this choice may reveal other intentions: "It may also reflect the desire to spare future discrimination to one's child during one's life. Because several studies and tests have shown that wearing a first name of North African origin, African or Asian could be a factor of discrimination during a recruitment process or to find a home, "says the researcher.

Names that work in both cultures

To avoid exposing their children to future difficulties, other parents of immigrants made a different choice: "They gave them a name that works in the French culture and in that of their country of origin of their family. , as for example Ines or Adam. It's a kind of invisibility strategy, "says Patrick Simon. This choice of a first name that conveys two cultural heritages is particularly common among mixed couples. In the same logic, some of these mixed couples give a French first name to their child and a second Arab-Muslim, for example. "The first will be used at school and the second in the family," observes the researcher.

Or the choice to keep track of its origins

Rarer are the children of immigrants who choose to signify their family origins in the name of their children. "These are most often people from immigrant families in Maghreb countries, who often give their children an Arab-Muslim name (23% of the grandchildren of North African immigrants have an Arab-Muslim name). But also families from southern Europe (Italy, Spain, Portugal), "says Patrick Simon. And this, for a very specific purpose: "They want to demonstrate their loyalty to their culture of origin, mark their membership in a community. Parents who consider religion as very important in their lives are also more likely to give Arab-Muslim names, "the researcher explains.

Although boys are more likely to have an Arab-Muslim name than girls in the same family, this is not a coincidence either, says the researcher: "Male first names are more identified and boys are more invested by their parents" he analyzes. Concerning parents from families from Southern Europe, they are all the more inclined to give a name to their country of origin to their children that their culture is valued in France: "Literature and Italian cinema have contributed for example, to give a prestigious character to Italian names. Calling Sofia or Lino is perceived as chic, "says the researcher.

* Person born abroad abroad and residing in France, according to the definition used by INED.



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