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Updated July 16, 2024

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France is one of the oldest countries in the world with a history rich with revolutions, writers, philosophers, and musicians. France's capital city Paris is one of the most well-known cultural centers in the world due to its influence on food, art, and couture fashion. 

Ancient France was part of the Celtic territory in Western Europe known as Gaul or Gallia which was conquered in the Roman conquests. In the 5th century, a Germanic group known as the Franks conquered the area. The name "France" comes from the Latin word Francia, which literally means "land of the Franks" or "Frankland".  

In the following centuries, France was ruled by a series of monarchs until the French Revolution overthrew the monarchy during the 18th century. Following the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte became Emperor of France, conquering much of Europe.

When Napoleon was eventually defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, France underwent many different regime changes. France played an important role in both World War I and World War II. In 1945, the Allies declared victory in the Second World War on the French coast during the Battle of Normandy.

Today France is one of the world's most powerful global forces with one of the most diverse populations in the world. The French language is spoken across continents, and French people are known for their strong sense of individualism. 

This individual nature and sense of self leads to a very important history of French names.  

The Origin of French Last Names 

The term "surname" actually has Old French origins. The etymology of surname comes from Middle English and the Anglo-Saxon/Old French words "surnum" and "surnoun," which translates to "above-or-over name."  

The first use of surnames was recorded in France around 1000 A.D., though giving last names did not become common until many centuries later. The use of last names in France, like in much of Europe, didn't become necessary until the 11th century, to differentiate between people with the same first name.

 It was pretty easy to adopt any last name you wished until 1474 when the king decreed that all last name changes had to go through him. From then on, all name changes were recorded, making it easier to trace family history.

Many  French last names have a Germanic origin due to the frequent land changes between the French and Germanic people through the centuries. So if your last name sounds German, it doesn't mean you actually are! In South-Eastern France, many surnames also have elements of the Italian language due to population migration across Europe. 

Today "French" and "François" are also popular French last names in their own rights.

French Last Name Practices and The Most Common French Surnames 

There are four common origins for French surnames. French surnames generally fall into one of these categories:

  1. Patronymic/Matronymic: Patronymic names are when a father's first name is used as a surname for descendants and family members. For example, common male names in France like Leroy, Michel, and Martin are now popular French last names. 
  2. Occupational: Occupational names derive from a person's job or societal role. For example, the last name "Chevrolet" translates to "goat farmer". Similarly, "Marchand" is a common French surname that means "merchant." 
  3. Descriptive: These names describe a physical quality or trait. For example, the last name "Petit" meaning "small" was a common nickname of Catalan origins. 
  4. Geographical: A geographical surname indicates a person's surroundings or hometown. For example, the common last name "Chastain" means "near chestnut trees."

Most Popular French Last Names with Meanings

Uncover the meanings etched into these surnames and find out how they reflect the culture and spirit of the French people.

  1. Blanchet - Derived from the word "blanc," which is French for "white." Another variation of this name is "LeBlanc." 
  2. Boucher - An occupational name meaning butcher or executioner.
  3. Deschamps -  Meaning "of the fields." This name likely refers to someone who lived or worked in the countryside. The surname "Deschamps" can also be translated as "of the champions," perhaps indicating a family of skilled individuals.
  4. Dupont - Dupont is a topographic name for someone who is "from the bridge."
  5. Fournier - 
  6. Garnier -  From a Germanic personal name, Warinhari, composed of the German words for the elements of war.
  7. Laurent - A Latin name in origin derived from the Roman surname Laurentius, which meant "from Laurentum". Laurent may also come from the Old Greek word for "bright one" or "shining one." 
  8. Lavigne - This French surname means "vine" or "vineyard" in Old French. Also used as a topographic name for someone who may have lived near a vineyard. 
  9. Martin - Derived from Mars, the Roman God of War and fertility, Martin. The root "Mar" means "Gleam" in French. 
  10. Monet - Monet is a variant of the name Simon and means "to be heard."
  11. Moulin - An occupational name for a miller or mill worker. 
  12. Toussaint - All saints. Toussaint is a family name composed of the words "tous" (all) and saints.
Senanque Abbey (Provence, France)

Famous French Surnames (with English Translations)

These iconic French surnames have transcended the borders of France, earning recognition worldwide. Delve into the origins and English translations of these illustrious names that resonate with the legacy of artistry, power, nobility, and more.

  1. Aubert - German origin surname that means “noble,” “bright” and “famous.”
  2. Barbier - Occupational name in France for a “barber-surgeon.”
  3. Cartier - Occupational name in France “one who drives a cart” or a “transporter of goods.”
  4. Dubois - Surname originating from the Old French "du bois" translated literally as "of the wood." W.E.B. Du Bois was a historian, author, and activist who was an important figure during the fight for Black civil rights in the United States during the 20th century. 
  5. Durand - French and Latin surname meaning “firm” and “enduring.”
  6. Fontaine - Fontaine is a beautiful French name meaning "fountain" or "water source." 
  7. Garcon - Old French surname referring to a young boy or servant.
  8. Granger - Granger originates from Middle French. It's an occupational surname meaning "farmer" or someone who works in agriculture. A popular character with this last name is Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter series. 
  9. Faucher - Occupational name for a reaper or mower, or a maker of scythes. It originates from the Old French word "fauche" which means "scythe."
  10. Larue - A common French surname that means “dweller by the road.”
  11. Lemaire - French status title or surname that means “The Mayor.”
  12. Moreau - A given name meaning "dark-skinned." 
  13. Pelletier - Occupational surname from the French word pelletier meaning “fur trapper.”
  14. Roche - Topographic name from the French word “roche” meaning rock. Refers to someone who lived by rocky terrain.
  15. Rousseau - Derived from the Old French term for someone with red hair. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a famous 18th-century philosopher who wrote during the time of the American and French revolutions.

Common Last Names in French

So, what is a typical French last name? The following surnames are some of the most frequently used in France, and by French people around the world.

  • Allard - Stemming from the Old High German words for "noble" and "hardy," Allard is a surname denoting someone of strong and courageous character.
  • Beaumont - This picturesque surname means "beautiful mountain," indicating that the original bearer of the name likely lived near or came from a scenic, hilly region.
  • Bernard - Meaning "strong as a bear," this name combines the Old German "bero," meaning bear, and "hard," meaning brave or hardy—a nod to strength and fortitude.
  • Deschamps - Translated as "from the fields," this surname signifies a person who lived or worked in the rural, pastoral countryside.
  • Fournier - Historically indicating a person who worked in or owned a bakery, from the Old French term "four," meaning oven.
  • Girard - With roots in the Germanic words "ger," meaning spear, and "hard," meaning hardy or brave, Girard was likely a name for a skillful warrior.
  • Guillaume - The French form of William, it is derived from the Germanic "wil," meaning will or desire, and "helm," meaning helmet or protection, often referring to a determined protector.
  • Lambert - Composed of the Germanic elements "land," meaning land, and "berht," meaning bright, Lambert may have originally described a property owner known for being illustrious or renowned.
  • Lefebvre - Derived from the Old French "fevre," meaning smith, this surname was traditionally linked to craftsmen who worked with iron or metal.
  • Tremblay - Indicative of a place name, possibly derived from "tremble," the aspen tree, suggesting that the name bearers might have lived near a grove of such trees.

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