In case you’ve ever wondered whether to keep the particle “de” when referring to a person of Frenchness, here‘s the answer (courtesy of this thread at the newly resuscitated Wordorigins):

The rule is this – a “de” attached to a single-syllable name stays no matter what. Anything longer, and removal of the honorific means removal of the “de”.
So you read de Gaulle’s books, but you peruse Tocqueville’s works – and Villepin’s, as the minister is also an author.
And “de”, by the way, is NEVER capitalised.

Just for the record, the new prime minister‘s full name is Dominique Marie François René Galouzeau de Villepin. (It took me years to fully absorb the idea that Dominique could be a man’s name; when I was a kid I was quite confused by the Singing Nun‘s “Dominique, nique, nique” and its references to “he.”)


  1. Si, it’s capitalised at the start of a sentence. </useless pedantry>.
    Would “Dominic” as a male name have inspired the same reaction in you, LH, as a matter of idle interest?

  2. No, Dominic somehow “looks” male in a way that Dominique didn’t (to me at age 12 or whatever). (Dom DiMaggio!) Maybe Dominique reminded me of Monique.
    (Yeah, I thought of the sentence thing too, but I decided to let it go, figuring my pedantic readership would pick up on it if they wanted.)

  3. And have you absorbed that Marie could be a man’s name?

  4. Same way various Lesleys and Sandys puzzle me in English.
    I thought I developed pretty good personal guidline – if it ends with “ie”, it’s a hen; with a “ey” – a rooster. Until I was introduced to a new female colleague Lesley X and one of the building managers of real estate client I do a job for is named Sandy (as from Sanford, not Alexander, incidentally). On the other hand, years ago I used to know a certain Sandy who even considering her cigarette-roughed voice was most certainly a woman…

  5. De Galouzeau family obtained the part de Villepin by marriage. See:
    So they didn’t buy the de-part like the Giscards.
    I also read somewhere that in France one should write a couple of books, before starting only to think about pursueing a career in national politics.

  6. I’ve always thought Leslie was male, Lesley was female, and that’s accorded with those I’ve actual name. I suspect violations of that are (younger?) Americans.
    French names are generally amenable to forming masculine/feminine pairs like adjectives. With Dominique or chic the schoolroom rules we learnt for French break down, and we have no intuition.

  7. *boink*
    actual name -> actually known
    …that must say something about production while mildly drunk.

  8. Des, that was what I linked to! Are all my commenters drunk today?

  9. However, le Marquis de Sade is often shortened to “Sade”, at least in a literary context. Are writers and/or sexual deviants thus exceptions to the single-syllable rule? (And yes, I’m drunk; otherwise I wouldn’t dare comment on a linguistic blog with my less than perfect command of English.) (And by the way, I’m male. French people seem to think I’m an island; but no man is. I’m just Swedish.)

  10. I had stupid fun once with a French friend with “titanique…ta mere”, “satanique…ta mere”, etc.
    I pity the poor fool who’s mother’s actually named Dominique. Schoolyard taunts can be beastly.

  11. I see I better catch up and get drunk presto.
    Coz 1) we had a new IT person today at work – Lesley L: big, loud (and quite smelly) male.
    2) what would be your guess on a gender of one Dana? This site decided on “he”; this one, to the contrary, on “she”…
    I’m going down to the freezer to pour me some.

  12. In Spanish, especially among Central American peasants, males can have female names especially if they refer to a virgin, one of the various forms of Mary. I’ve known men named Guadalupe, Dolores (nicknamed Lolo, where a female Dolores would be Lola), Suyapa, José María, José Pilar and even a José Isabel.

  13. Now that I’ve had a couple glasses of pinot noir, I’m not worrying about Dominique anymore.
    *clinks glasses with Tatyana*

  14. Why do I keep thinking of Pat from SNL?

  15. theloniouszen says

    There’s also the old president and drafter of the EU constitution, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.

  16. Oops.
    Incidentally a friend of mine answered to Dominique in the Frenchy-French and Dominic in Engleesh although there is generally only one of him, even when I’m drunk.

  17. I think Maria as a second name for men is not uncommon in Spain — for example, the previous prime minister was Jose Maria Aznar.
    There also seems to be a vogue for Maria as a male middle name among Germans — the actor Klaus Maria Brandauer and the composer Carl Maria von Weber come to mind.
    For English-speakers, anyway, some Italian male names can look misleadingly female; I know a male Italian astronomer named Nicola. (He used to keep posted on his wall an invitation that “Who’s Who Women in Science” sent him….)
    I believe the correct female equivalent name for Italians is Nicoletta.

  18. I knew an American named Andrea who had lived in Italy for a while, and her femaleness apparently caused surprise and confusion for some people she had appointments with. It probably didn’t help that she had an Italian surname.
    Now can we get an explanation for why we drop the “van” for Beethoven?

  19. I was glad to see the “satanique… ta mère” comment… especially after seeing “Dominique, nique, nique” (ta mère)!
    Nice blog. Will have to visit more often.

  20. Jimmy Ho says

    Ever since rap group NTM and Mathieu Kassovitz’s movie La haine have made the expression known to an audience that didn’t use it, “-nique ta mère” jokes have become a permanent feature of the venerable satirical weekly Le canard enchaîné.
    As for gender-ambiguous first names, there is at least one instance that often serves to test one’s familiarity with Western Sinology. Of course, such ambivalence is frequent in Chinese names (out of the “martial stuff for the boys, jade varieties and beauty-related things for the girls” laziness), that’s why lists usually include the person’s sex (男 or 女) along with the ethnicity and birth year/place. I’d rather not give any personal examples, but by arbitrarily image-googling the given name Wenjun 文君 (cultivate gentleman/lady), I find the photos of both men (like Prof. Cao Wenjun) and women (like writer Qin Wenjun).
    Aside from that, there are also interesting cases of deliberate gender misappropriation due to either religious causes (e.g. to follow a prediction, or to avoid some evil announced by a bad omen) or simply sexism. I once met a female scholar whose disyllabic name included the character nan 男. In response to my probably too visible surprise, she explained to me that her name was supposed to counterbalance the fact that, “unfortunately”, she had not been born a boy.

  21. Jimmy Ho says

    (By the way, the name Wenjun didn’t come up to my mind ex nihilo when I was looking for a non personal example: Zhuo Wenjun 卓文君 was Han poet Sima Xiangru’s lover. There are hundreds of movies and television serials about their romance.)

  22. Hm. Thread still almost alive?
    Regarding “de”, The Armeno-Swedish scholar d’Ohsson popped into my mind He was an Ottoman Armenian who entered the Swedish diplomatic service and wrote a number of important (and still useful) works in French about the Mongol empire and related subjects.
    His name was a Franco-Swedish concoction. His actual name was Mouradja (various spellings). So he has a French prefix, a Swedish suffix, and “Oh”.
    Mr. Nicola di Cosmo is another Italian scholar who confuses people.

  23. Interesting. This Armeno-Swedish history page says:
    “It is also a historical fact that many Armenians were employed by the Swedish Embassy in Ottoman Turkey. Among those are Paris University graduate Hagop Tchamichoglu (Tchamichian) who served in the Swedish Embassy in Constantinople in the early 1700’s and Hovhannes Mouradgian who held a key position as interpreter at the same Embassy in the mid 1700’s…
    “Over the years, the Mouradgian family– a name which was later changed to Mouradgea d’Ohsson apparently to make it sound more Swedish– became closely associated with Swedish diplomatic life in the Ottoman Empire. The senior Mouradgian’s son and grandson, Ignatius Mouradgea d’Ohsson and Abraham Constantin d’Ohsson, are well known by Swedish historians.”
    I’d dearly love to know how they came up with that “d’Ohsson”!

  24. There’s a contemporary musicologist d’Ohsson who writes mostly in German.

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