August 2, 2021

Adam loses his all-purpose virtue

If you ever emigrate to Japan or Italy, Kuwait or Thailand, what first name will you give your child? A first name “from over there” or a first name that smells of France? A name that you will never be able to pronounce with the accent of the country that welcomed you or a name that wraps itself on your tongue? A first name of which you intuitively feel all the connotations, or an unknown first name? Or, you will try the first name “which passes in the two countries”, pronounceable, little connoted.

It is the choice of some of “our” immigrants, those who have chosen France. Rayane, who can be pronounced like Ryan, or Inès, a first name that is both Spanish and Arabic. Passing for a first name from the country has advantages: on the one hand the foreign origin is invisible, on the other there is always fidelity to the origins.

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Today, Adam is one of those first names. It has only advantages: first name of the first man, common to the three monotheisms, short name, universally perceived as a “boy’s first name”, not complicated. And in addition, new first name, in the sense that almost no one received this first name, in France, before 1980: it is not a grandfather’s first name. In a sense, its connotations are floating, open.

More so pretty than that

But Adam does not keep this all-purpose character. On the forums, some expectant mothers ask themselves: “Adam, I like it, but does it sound Arabic?” ” What question ! Where is she from ?

Adam is in the process of knowing the fate that Yanis experienced at the beginning of the 2000s. Yanis, a Greek first name, then became popular with parents from North Africa. As this group embraces it, the French without migratory origin avoid it: from Greek, it has acquired the connotation of Arabic first name, as strongly as Enzo, conversely, has lost its character of Italian first name.

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Adam, the same. When parents start to think about a name, today they search, they listen, they ask questions. And quickly, they discover who the little Adams are, in the street, at school, at the nursery. And for some of our fellow citizens, finally, Adam, it’s not that pretty anymore.

Baptiste Coulmont is professor of sociology at the Ecole normale supérieure Paris-Saclay, author of “Sociologie des prénoms” (La Découverte, 2014, 130 p., 10 €) and, with Pierre Mercklé, of “Why top-models do not smile . Sociological chronicles ”(Presses des Mines, 2020, 184 p., € 29).

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