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The girl they named Manhattan: the law of forenames in France and England

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2018

Roderick Munday*


On 20 February 1982 a baby girl was born in France to Jean-Pierre and Marie-Hélène C. They determined to call their child Manhattan, after an eponymous popular song that had enjoyed currency in the year they were married. The registrar (officier de l’état civil), however, declined to register the child under that name and, when the parents subsequently refused to select any others, the procureur de la République applied to the French civil courts to give the child a forename. The tribunal de grande instance gave the infant its parents’ forenames, refusing to grant the latters’ request to register the child under the name of Manhattan.

Research Article
Copyright © Society of Legal Scholars 1985

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1. Civ (Ire Ch), 17, July 1984, D 1984 J 609, note Massip; JCP 1984. II.20243, note RL.

2. For detailed accounts of the historical background to the law of 1803, see eg, Garaud & Szramkiewicz, La Révolution francaise et la famille (1978, Paris), pp 9–19; Petit, ‘Le choix des prénoms’, Gaz Pal 1984. I Doctr.207; Agostini, note to Cass Civ (Ire Ch), 10 June 1981, D.1982 J.160.

3. An erudite study of this phenomenon may be found in Levy, ‘Les prénoms de l'an II’ (1913) LXV Revue de la Révolution francaise pp 496–526 and (1914) LXVI Revue de la Révolution francaise, pp 15–32.

4. Apple, Mugwort, Republican Orange-Flower, Strawberry, Beetroot, Horse-Radish (Raifort Geoffrey's father was a market-gardener: Levy, above, n 3, at p 515), Rhubarb, Rye, Elder-flower, Poplar, Bitumen, Trowel, Marvel of Peru.

5. The Law, the Mountain party, Regenerated Strength, Candour, Fear and Reason.

6. Right of Man Tricolour, Strive with a Will for the Republic, Sacred Love of the Native Land Year III, Rose Postal Fructidor, Simon Freedom or Death, Lucius Plebeian-Equality.

7. Coltsfoot, Chicory and a name derived from Broccoli. ‘ Sans-culottides’ was the term used to designate the few extra days of the year at the end of the revolutionary calendar which were supplementary to the twelve thirty-day months. For the text of the decree of 3 Brumaire Year II instituting the new calendar, see Duvergier (ed), Collection complète des lois, décrets etc de 1788 à 1830 (1834, Paris), v 6, pp 252–4.

8. 30 March 1803, cit. Garaud & Szramkiewicz, op cil n 2 above, p 18.

9. 20 March 1803. Ibid, p 17, n 49. This view is maintained in Dauzat, Dictionnaire Etymologique des Noms de Famille et Prénoms de France (1951, Paris. Revised edition by Morlet), p v.

10. Article 1.

11. Articles 2 and 3.

12. Levy, n 3 above, at pp 23–24.

13. See generally, Withycombe, The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names (3rd edn, Oxford, 1977), especially at pp xxxvi-lx; Weekley, Jack and Jill. A Study in our Christian Names (2nd edn, London, 1948), pp 92–108. For a more up-to-date study of English Christian names, see Dunkling and Gosling, Everyman's Dictionary of First Names (London, 1983).

14. The practice of trawling the Bible for names is commemorated in the story of the Puritan who named his dog ‘Moreover’, after the biblical dog in the verse: ‘Moreover the dog came and licked his sores’ (Luke 16: 21).

15. Macaulay remarked in his essay on Croker's Boswell's Life of Johnson that ‘Johnson could easily see that a Roundhead who named all his children after Solomon's singers, and talked in the House of Commons about seeking the Lord, might be an unprincipled villain whose religious mummeries only aggravated his faults’: Works (ed Trevelyan; London, 1866) vol V, p 528.

16. Bardsley, Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature (1877, London), p 52.

17. For a select list, see Dunkling, First Names First (1977, London), pp 6M9. For recent scholarly research on the geographical and temporal extent of the phenomenon, see Tyacke, Popular Puritan Mentality in Late Elizabethan Englandin Clark, Smith & Tyacke (eds), The English Commonwealth 1547–1640. Essays in Politics and Society (1979, New York), pp 77 et seq.

18. Remains Concerning Britain (1674, London), p 58 (1870 reprint).

19. Rendered Barebones in Withycombe, op cit, n 13 above, p xxxvii.

20. For one of the rare occasions when this matter has been noticed, see Anon, ‘What's In a Name’ (1979) 9 Fam Law 66.

21. Parisot, Le chungement de prénom, D 1966 Chron 41.

22. Civ (Ire Ch), 12 February 1957, Bull Civ 1957. I, no 71, p 60.

23. Law of 12 November 1955, D 1955.470. See generally, Nepveu, Du changemcnt de prénom JCP 1962. I. 1713; Parisot, n 21 above.

24. See now art 357 Code Civil. (This provision was the product of a law of 23 April 1949 (D 1949.L 241), an ordonnance of 23 December 1958 (D 1959.L 295) and, finally, a law of 11 July 1966 (D 1966.L 329). It applies only to full adoption, not to the less important form of adoption, adoption simple: see generally, Weill & Terré, Droit Civil. Les Personnes. La Famille. Les Incapacités (1978, Paris), §§701–735.

25. Law of 3 July 1965, D 1965.L 209 and law of 25 October 1972, D 1972.L 549. In fact, over the years the courts and writers have recognised certain other minor exceptions: see Nepveu, n 23 above, and text accompanying n 11.

26. Law of 25 October 1972, arts 1 and 2.

27. This simple device contrasts with the far more cumbrous procedure which governs change of surname: this latter change of status is not only very different in form but also erected by application to the administrative rather than the civil jurisdiction: see generally. Ponsard & Blondel, Enc Dolloz Droit Civil, sub nom Non-Prénom, §§ 186 et seq; Parisot, n 21 above, §25.

28. Souty, La loi du 12 novembre 1955 sur les prénoms ICP 1956. I. 1282. §14.

29. See eg Arras, 13 December 1978, Gaz Pal 1979. 2 Somm 362 (Zenom Francois); Paris, 28 September 1979, unreported (the infelicitously named Félicité Lanuit); Riom, 4 October 1982, Rep Defrénois 1983. 766, obs Massip; Civ, 3 February 1981, D 1981. 550 obs Massip; Civ (lre ch), 10 October 1984, JCP 1984. IV. 346.

30. Parisot, n 21 above, § 18. Trib grande inst Pontoise (Ch cons) 15 February 1984, Gaz Pal 1984. 2. Somm 190 (Vanille may sound attractive, but an agreeble sonority is not a ‘legitimate interest’).

31. Trib grande inst Montbéliard, 9 July 1965. D 1965.675, concl Petit.

32. Trib grande inst Toulouse, 29 January 1976, D 1976 Somm 61; Civ (lre Ch), 16 December 1975, JCP 1976. IV. 50; Trib grande inst Angouleme (2eCh), 18 January 1984, La Vie Judiciaire 31 December 1984–6 January 1985, p 3. Prior to the 1955 reform, the courts were prepared to allow rectification of a birth certificate where the sex and, hence, the forenames of a party were wrongly inscribed: Trib civ Chateau-Thierry, 26, January 1940, DH 1940.123.

33. Paris. 26 October 1962, D 1963.653; Civ, 26 January 1965, D 1965.216; Rev trim dr civ, 1965. 335, obs Desbois.

34. Trib grande inst Saumur, 3 March 1977, JCP 1978.II.18968, obs TP; Trib grande inst Cherbourg, 8 May 1974, Gaz Pal, 1974.2 Somm 255.

35. Nepveu, n 23 above.

36. Paris (Ire Ch), 29 June 1962, JCP 1963.II.13011. For a contrary view, see Nerson, Rev trim dr Civ 1969.320: ‘on peut se demander dans quelle mesure I'ordre public est intéresséà ce qu'un enfant soit prénommé Antoine plutot que Toni… la puissance publique ne doit s'immiscer qu'avec réserve dans des questions qui sont avant tout d'intéret privé.’ See also Civ (Ire Ch), 10 October 1984, Gaz Pal 13–14 March 1985, p 12, note JM.

37. Eg Trib grade inst Aurillac, 11 March 1980, D 1980 Inf rap 544 (Bryan). See especially Petit, Le Choix dcs Préoms, Gaz Pal 1984. I. Doctr at p 208.

38. It is not easy to explain why the Swedish forenames Hjalmar and Sven are acceptable, but not Björn, Arje or Elkc: Colmar, 17 February 1965, Gaz Pal 1965.2.131.

39. Civ (Ire Ch), 10 June 1981, D 1982.1.160, note Agostini.

40. See text accompanying nn 8 and 9 supra.

41. Horse, Pig, Truffle, Cask, Lungwort, Mattock, Rape (bot), Saracen's wound-wort and Larch.

42. Supra, n 39. This decision provoked a parliamentary written question in the National Assembly in October 1983, which drew the Minister of Justice's attention to seemingly inconsistent decisions handed down by French courts in the context of forenames. The Minister's reply, interestingly, whilst referring to the law of 11 germinal Year XI, emphasised the constantly evolving local and national usages in the matter of forenames: JCP 1984. IV.57.

43. Massip, note to Civ (Ire Ch), 17 July 1984, D 1984.609. See also Malaurie, note to Trib Grande Inst Caen, 20 December 1965, JCP 1966.11.14626. Petit, n 2 above, asks at p 210 whether ‘various calendars’ would include Auguste Comte's positivist calendar of eighteenth and nineteenth century savants.

44. In this instance, the procureurs généraux whose ultimate responsibility it is to apply the Revolutionary law.

45. Instruction générale of 12 April 1966, JCP 1966, III, 31959; JO 3 May 1966 at pp 3523–3524. It is to be noted that in theory such instructions do not have the force of law, but are intended to guide practice. In this context, of course, they can be of decisive influence.

46. Eg Civ, 12 November 1964, Gaz Pal, 1965.I.191; Civ, 3 January 1964, JCP 1964.II.13492; Paris, 24 February 1962, D 1962.430. Cp, Civ, 1 July 1980, D 1980 Inf rap 544 (where it was held that Goarnic is neither a Breton forename nor a name to be found in the various calendars).

47. The courts have not always applied this direction with latitude: see eg Paris, 21 November 1968. JCP 1969.II.15842; Rev trim dr civ 1969.320, obs Nerson, where Toni was rejected in favour of the French forename Antoine.

48. Nerson, Rev trim dr civ 1966. 522.

49. Petit, n 2 above; Ponsard & Blondel, op cit n 27 above, § 308; Weill & Terré, op cit n 24 above, §50.

50. Note 43 above. See generally arts 371 et seq, Code Civil.

51. Nerson, n 48 above, at p 524; Trib grande inst Cusset, 24 February 1982, JCP 1984. IV. 199.

52. Above, note 1.

53. Josling, Change of Name (12th edn, 1980), p 5; Halsbury's Laws of England (4th edn) vol 35, para 1173; Williams v Bryant (1839) 5 M & W 447. See generally Linell, The Law of Names Public, Private and Corporate (1938, London).

54. Section 3(1)(d). Section 22 underscores the point by stating that Christian name includes ‘any forename’. This view has been followed in the Companies Acts of 1948 (ss 200(3)(a), 200(9)(b), 407(2)(a)(i) and 407(2)(b)(i)), 1976 (s 21) and 1985 (ss 289(1), 289(2)(a), 290(1)(a) and 290(3)).

55. ‘Speaking generally, the law of this country allows any person to assume and use any name, provided its use if not calculated to deceive and to inflict pecuniary loss’: Earl Cowley v Countess Cowley [1901] AC 450.460per Lord Lindley. See also Du Boulay v Du Boulay (1869) LR 2 PC 430.

56. [1946] 1 Ch 183.

57. Ibid at p 185.

58. A constitution of Archbishop Peccham provided that ‘the ministers shall take care not to permit wanton names, which being pronounced do sound to lasciviousness, to be given to children baptized, especially of the female sex; and if otherwise it be done, the same shall be changed by the bishop at confirmation.’: Lindwood's Provinciale (1679, Oxford) 245; Burn's Ecclesiastical Law (9th edn, 1842, London) by Phillimore, vol I, p 110. See now, Revised Canons Ecclesiastical, Canon B27, para 6. Interestingly, it was this aspect of Vaisey J's judgment that attracted greatest attention in contemporary notes of the case: REM (1946) 62 LQR 221; Anon (1946) 10 Conv (NS) 170; Anon (1946) 201 LT 145.

59. Josling, Adoption of Children (9th edn, 1980), pp 105 and 155.

60. Eg, Anon, If his Name be George, I'll Call Him Peter (1947) III JP 161.

61. (1814) 3 M & S 250.

62. Ibid at p 257 per Ellenborough LCJ. See also Frankland v Nicholson (1805) 3 M & S at 260n per Sir William Scott.

63. Eg, Walden v Holman (1704) 6 Mod 115, 116 per Holt CJ; Jones v MacQuillin (1793) 5 TR 195.

64. Evans v King (1744) Willes 554 at 557 per Willes LCJ; Could v Barnes (1811)3 Taunt 504.

65. Addis v Norris (1831) 7 Bing 455.

66. (1839) 5 M & W 447, 454—455. The courts have not always been so understanding in matters of identification of parties. Initials in place of forenames offer a case in point. Thus, whilst a court might have been prepared to recognise a vowel as a Christian name in the context of a bill of exchange (Lomax v Landells (1848) 6 CB 577), a consonant, not being ‘vocalis or sonans’ was rejected by Made J in Kinnersley v Knott (1849) 7 CB 980 at 986. Lord Campbell brushed aside this nonsense in R v Dale (1851) 17 QB 64 and initials were treated as appropriate forms of signature in R v Avery (1852) 18 QB 576.

67. Eg Goadhy, Change of ‘Christian’ Name (1946) JCL & Int. Law 82.

68. Such deeds poll (which are only a form of evidence of change of name) carry a special declaration which runs: ‘Notwithstanding the decision of Mr Justice Vaisey in the case of Re Parrott. Cox v Parrott, the applicant desires the enrolment to proceed’, thus acknowledging the danger that the deed may prove ineffective in this detail: Josling, op cit n 59 above, p36.

69. ‘A man may have divers names at divers times, but not divers Christian names’: Co Litt 3a.

70. Proust, A la recherche du temps perdu (1954, Paris, Gallimard. Bibliothèque de la Pleiade) vol II, p 892.

71. See eg Zonabend, Le nom depersonne, I'Homme, vol 20, October-December 1980, p 7; Daniel Scott Smith, Child-Naming as Cultural and Familial Indicators, Local Population Studies No 32 (Spring 1984), p.17.

72. Above, n 56.

73. These problems are far from novel. In 1206 Brother Augustine, a Cheshire monk, wrote to the Pope, expressing anxiety that prayers said for the former's soul after death might be misdirected since, before entering religion, his name had been Henry. The Pope was able to reassure the brother: see C. R. Cheney, From Becket to Lungton: English Church Government 1170–1213 (1956, Manchester), p 86.

74. See JCP 1984. IV. 57.

75. Eg Petit, Le choix des prénoms, Gaz Pal 1984. I. Doctr at p 210.

76. Above, n 56.

77. Above, n 66.

78. But see Trib Civ Seine, 29 April 1921, DP 1922.5.2.

79. See eg Nepveu, Du pseudonyme JCP 1961.1.1662; Leloup, Le pseudonyme, Rev trim dr civ 1963.449; Civ (Ire Ch), 3 January 1964, Rev trim dr civ 1964.544 obs Desbois.

80. Civ (IreCh), 17 July 1984, D 1984, J 609, n I above. Given the prevailing laxity in the matter of admissible forenames, it is tempting to think that the Court's refusal to accept Manhattan was connected with the general French war on franglais: see generally Munday, Legislating in Defence of the French Language [1985] 44 CLJ 218.

81. See RL, note in JCP 1984.11.20243; Savatier, note to Paris, 23 May 1924, DP 1925.2.9.