The question of regional languages and the claims surrounding the law associated with it go beyond the question of speaking alone: the spelling of certain first names is linked to it. In Brittany, it is the emblematic case of Fañch who symbolizes this debate, while the possibility of using diacritics, including the famous tilde, has been censored by the Constitutional Council. Beyond legal questions, what are the most popular Breton first names for parents in Brittany and other regions?
700 first names or variations listed
The question is simple, but the answer is risky: we must agree on what we mean by “Breton first name”. Is it a first name from the Breton language, from Celtic culture more broadly, or from a first name very present in the region? The Breton Language Office (OLB) provides a first piece of response by offering a list of Breton first names to inspire future parents.
“This list brings together forms of first names attested in Breton”, summarizes Herve Gwegen of the OLB. Most “are first names from the Breton language, that is to say whose name components come from Breton”, but these 700 first names or variations identified also include “a whole series of borrowings”. Among these entries, we find in particular Ferdinant, Gabriel, Joel for boys, or Eva and Lila for girls.
Anna and Malo in the lead
All, therefore, will not be chosen in order to give a Breton first name to his child, which somewhat distorts the classification. The OLB does not claim completeness either, which would require regular updating and the addition of certain lesser-used or known first names. “It’s a list, it’s worth what it’s worth,” smiles Herve Gwegen. It has the merit of providing a Breton point of support for diving into the annual lists of first names disseminated by INSEE.
Verdict? In administrative Brittany, Anna and Malo climb to the first place of the podium, with 159 and 202 births in 2019, the most recent year for which the data are disseminated by INSEE. Among the other given names having a most obvious link with the Breton language, we find Yuna and Enora on the girls side, Ewen and Owen on the boys side.
These numbers may seem low on around 30,000 babies born each year in one of the four departments. It should be remembered, however, that the trend in recent years has been towards originality of first name and spelling. Thus, the first name given the most in the whole of France is Gabriel, with less than 5,000 births. In the details of the departments of the region, the order may change, but not significantly, the number of births concerned being very low.
And before ? In 1980, Erwan, Yann and Ronan scored the top three for the boys, just like Nolwenn, Rozenn and Katell for the girls. As for the whole of France, the diversity of first names changes over time and, with it, the presence of various Breton first names. More recently, we discover that trends are changing, but not so quickly. In 2019, we counted more Malo than Ewen, but if we add up the number of babies named each year with a Breton first name, more Malo were born between 2000 and 2019, in total.
Among girls, the change is even less marked: Enora has dominated the total number of births since 2000. The very great popularity of first names like Anna can be observed in spite of everything, and we imagine that the generation of Enora could give way, to here a few years, to other Breton first names which are currently very popular.
Favorites throughout France
At the level of France, Gabriel steals first place in Malo among boys, but for the rest, the national choice is very close to the regional choice. However, two Breton first names appear in the French top without being in administrative Brittany: Adrian and Anton.
As for the Breton first names attributed to girls, always less numerous in general, we also find Enora, Yuna or Alana among the most given. Several other first names present in the Breton list appear but can also be associated with other origins. This is for example the case of Paola, which can be the feminine of Paol, a first name also associated with the Hispanic languages.
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