French Last Names: Origins and Meanings (2024)

French last names aren’t just a way to trace your lineage back several generations. They can tell you a lot about where your family originated and the lives your ancestors in France lived. Find out the most common French last names today and how understanding the origins of French surnames can help you connect with your family’s roots.

Origins of French Last Names

French surnames came into use around the 11th century as a way to differentiate between people with the same first names, but it wasn’t until the 14th century that having a French last name became extremely common. Atthe time, French last names were given a few ways. That’s why most French last names fall into one of four types of surname groups:

  • Occupational surnames (based on the job a person had)
  • Patronymic surnames (based on the name of a person’s father)
  • Geographical surnames (based on where a person lived)
  • Descriptive surnames (based on a nickname or trait of the individual)

Knowing your French last name’s origin can help you learn more about where your relatives hailed from or what jobs your ancestors might have worked. For example, the French geographical surname Comtois means fromFranche-Comte, indicating that an ancestor lived in this eastern French province. Similarly, the occupational surname Fabron means “blacksmith,” indicating that a relative in the 11th to 14th century likely worked in this industry.

Surnames can also indicate whether a person’s family originated from the north or south of France, based on language differences. Medieval French or Old French was a version of Latin spoken in the northern part of the country until around the 14th century. Therefore, if you have a name that derives from Old French, you can assume your family once lived in the northern part of the country.

Common French Last Names

French Last Names: Origins and Meanings (1)

If you have one of the most common French surnames, you can almost guarantee you’ll be able to trace your family history back to some part of France.These are 10 of themost common French last names in France today:

  1. Martin
  2. Bernard
  3. Robert
  4. Richard
  5. Durand
  6. Dubois
  7. Moreau
  8. Simon
  9. Laurent
  10. Michel

In contrast, some of the rarest andunique surnames in France are:

  • Auclair
  • Anouilh
  • Escoffier
  • Floquet

When researching French last names, you might notice that some surnames start with “de” or “du.” These names are thought to originate from members of the upper class and indicate nobility; however, there’sno concrete evidence that a surname beginning with this prefix stems from upper-class heritage.

Most common French Canadian surnames

French Canadian surnames are those originating in the province of Quebec, Canada. Quebec is a primarily French-speaking province, and while many residents of this region can trace their heritage back to European French ancestors, the common surnames here differ from those in France. The most common French Canadian last names are:

  1. Tremblay
  2. Gagnon
  3. Roy
  4. Cote
  5. Gauthier
  6. Morin
  7. Belanger
  8. Bouchard
  9. Pelletier
  10. Gagne

Some French Canadian surnames originate from what is called a “dit” name. “Dit” is from the French verb dire, which means “to say.” The “dit” name is a secondary or alternate surname for a French Canadian family that came about due to a military nickname, anickname based on a place or physical feature, or someone’s parent’s name. Since these names were developed informally at some point in history, they may alter a family’s surname at a particular generation, making it more challenging for French Canadians to accurately trace their lineage back to French ancestors in Europe.

An example of a “dit” surname is Tremblay dit Leblond. In this case, Tremblay is the family’s last name passed down through many generations, but “le blond” describes an attribute about the family. So in future generations, the family may be referred to by the full name or simply take on the new dit surname Leblond. In some cases, the family may also choose to hyphenate the name in place of “dit” so a family in Quebec with the last name Tremblay-Leblond can link their heritage back to a “dit” name and a traditional French surname.

French Last Names and Meanings

Understanding French last names and meanings can help you learn more about the origins behind your surname. These are the meanings behind the 10 most common surnames in France:

  1. Martin: A patronymic surname derived from theRoman name Martinus.
  2. Bernard: A name with Germanic origins meaning “bear” or “brave and hardy.”
  3. Robert: Also a given name with French-Germanic origins meaning “bright” or “shining.”
  4. Richard: Common given name in France and other parts of Europe, as well as Québec. It means “powerful” or “brave.”
  5. Durand: A French-Latin name, Durand means “enduring.”
  6. Dubois: A locational name that can alsobe spelled Du Bois. It means “of the woods.”
  7. Moreau: A surname that comes from the Old French word “more” or “moor,” indicating that a person with this name has origins in northern France.
  8. Simon: A name with traditionally Greek and Hebrew origins, meaning “he who hears.”
  9. Laurent: This geographic name means “of Laurentum,” which was an ancient Roman city.
  10. Michel: A Hebrew name that means “God-like.”

The French surnames and meanings can vary by region. For example, a name that originated in the north of France might have a different meaning in Old French than in the modern Frenchlanguage.

Finding Your Ancestors With French Last Names

French Last Names: Origins and Meanings (2)

If you have a French surname or a French Canadian surname, you can use Ancestry® to search for relatives and ancestors with the same last name. An Ancestry membership can give you access to billions of historical records, including some in French. You can also find military records, which may help French Canadians trace their lineage when “dit” names are involved.

Your family’s surnames may have changed due to nicknames over generations. If you’re struggling to track your family tree through last names alone, consider an AncestryDNA® test to determine your country or region of origin, including Breton and Romani communities which could help you determine where your family may have lived.

Start Your Search

Tracing your family lineage begins with the last name and the surnames of your paternal and maternal ancestors. Start a free trial at Ancestry today and see how easy it can be to find your family’s French story.

French Last Names: Origins and Meanings (2024)
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