Jean-Francois MIGNOT, First names given in France, 1800–2019: a window into the process of individualization,
Population and Economics 6(2)
, 2022, 108–119

What can first names tell us about populations of the past, as well as our present day? This article uses the number and distribution of first names given to newborns in France from 1800 to 2019 as an indicator of the degree of individualization, i.e. parents’ willingness to give their child a unique identity and to make others regard it as unique. Newborns receive more distinct names, from fewer than 2,000 names per year in the 1900s, compared to more than 13,000 per year since 2010. Fewer newborns are given one of the Top-10 most frequently given names of the decade, from 65% of newborns in 1810–1819 to 10% in 2010–2019. Fashion for first names has been also changing more quickly since the early 20th century, i.e., the most popular names currently remain in fashion for a shorter period of time. Overall, in France as elsewhere in the West and in the world, more and more parents are choosing for their children – particularly for their daughters – relatively new, distinctive and individualizing names. The analysis of first names can thus help social scientists, including historical demographers, measure the process of individualization and compare it across countries – a task that has been notoriously difficult to this day.