A small rant


And while we’re on the subject of writing in other cultures….

Dear Interwebs (and dear writers/editors/journalists),

If you’re going to be using or quoting French words, would you please try to get the accents right? It may not seem like much to you, but witness:

-“côte”=slope; “coté“=side
-“mat”=matte, Fool trump in tarot; “mât”=mast
-“pâte”=dough, “pâté“=spreadable paste made with meat, “pate”= a word that doesn’t exist in the dictionary (though “patte” does)

I can deal with no accents whatsoever, since I’ll assume they’ve all been stripped. But please pretty please with cherries on top, don’t just randomly add them and hope it looks good. It doesn’t. It just looks weird, unpronouncable, and written by someone who had no blasted idea of what accents were for.

And if you’re going to be making up French first names, could you please check the time period when your story is supposed to be taking place?

You might not know it, but before 1993, the civil servants at the town hall (where you go to register a birth), could reject anything that wasn’t on a pre-approved list (it’s here in French, if you’re interested. A shorter version in English is up on Wikipedia). The list was calendar saints, mythology (Greek/Roman), some foreign names (very limited, since the ones listed are James, Ivan or Nadine), some substantives, and acceptable variations on spelling of an authorised name (Marianne for Marie-Anne, Mathieu for Matthieu, Michèle/Michelle). And you actually had to justify why you weren’t giving a proper French name (as in, a calendar saint).

And before 1966, anything that wasn’t a calendar saint had very, very low chances of going through.

So, if you’re going to be creative with first names, please don’t set your story in 1945.


  1. Fascinating snippet of information about French names! I never knew names were restricted in this way. I will bear it in mind if I write a story set in Paris!

  2. To be fair, I think now you can call people mostly anything. It used to be really complicated, though.

  3. Wow, that’s very interesting about the names, thanks for posting that!

    I frequently correct my local Starbucks over their accent marks. They switch between “créme caramel” and “cremé caramel” on a regular basis, and often write out (my personal pet peeve) of “Columbian” coffee instead of Colombian. Grrr!

  4. You’re welcome. And that does sound like creative language use….

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