French Names from Two Thirteenth Century Chronicles

by Arval Benicoeur (Josh Mittleman)

© 1997 by Joshua D. Mittleman; all rights reserved.

The Source

Chronicles of the Crusades, by Joinville and Villehardouin, is a translation of two 13th century chronicles of French participation in the Crusades. The chronicles were written by two high noblemen of Champagne, Jean de Joinville and Geoffroy de Villehardouin, and cover events from 1199 to 1298. Both chronicles were written in French, which makes them particularly good sources for information on names of the period.

Warning: These are modern spellings of the names. The translator makes a big deal about having left the names in their "native form". I originally thought this meant that the names were unchanged from the source, but it turns out that she copied the names from a modern French translation of the Old French text. Damned if I know why she thought this was something to boast about.

The events of both chronicles stretch from France to the Middle East, with stops in Italy, Greece, Romania, Cyprus, Egypt, and elsewhere, and involve people from Germany and England as well as all these countries. However, most of the people mentioned by name are French, and nearly all are from the modern lands of northern France and Belgium. The people named are nearly all members of the nobility, and a disproportionate number are members of the high nobility. Very few women are named, and those who are named are almost all royalty. Thus the selection of names listed here is skewed heavily toward the naming practices of the nobility. However, that bias is not inappropriate for Society newcomers choosing their names.

Surnames in 13th Century France

Judging from this sample of names, the French nobility of the 13th century were overwhelming known by a single given name plus a locative surname. Of the 322 masculine names collected in this list, 303 included a byname of some kind. Four used a double byname, for a total of 307 bynames. Of these bynames, 292 are locative. Most of these took the form de + place-name, (e.g., de Villeroi, d'Urboise, du Frêne); five were le + locative adjective (e.g., le Breton). Two are locatives without preposition (Boileau = bois l'eau [Dauzat], Villers "city-dweller" [Dauzat]). Of the remaining names, ten are descriptive: One byname is apparently occupational (Coiseau "millstone" [Dauzat]), one is patronymic (Caym), and two could not be classified (Caier, Foisnon). Of the four double bynames, one has a patronymic plus a standard locative (Jean Caym de Saint-Menehould), one has an unclassifiable byname plus a standard locative (Pierre Caier de Neuville), and two combine an adjective locative plus a standard locative (e.g. Milon le Brébant de Provins).

It is worth noting that many royalty are mentioned only by given name and relationship (e.g., the king's daughter Marie) and that the names of kingdoms, counties, and other large provinces are used as locatives only by the rulers of those lands and by their immediate families.

Members of lesser families often shared the same locative surname, though not always. Sharing of locatives seems more common among the lower nobility and among younger members of a family, so I suggest that a man used his father's or brother's locative until he gained lands of his own, and then adopted a new locative.


Joinville and Villehardouin, Chronicles of the Crusades, trans. M. R. B. Shaw (New York: Dorset Press, 1985).

Albert Dauzat, Dictionnaire Étymologique des Noms de Famille et des Prénoms de France (Paris: Libraire Larousse, 1987).

The Names

The remainder of this article consists of three lists: feminine given names, masculine given names, and place names used in locative surnames. I have eliminated non-French names entirely; there are not enough names from any other region to warrant analysis.

In the lists of given names, I have grouped diminutives and alternate spellings together, and presented the names in order of frequency of use in the text. The headword is the most common form attested. All names in this sample are given in their modern spellings, so the spellings should not be taken to indicate anything about period usage. The period spellings differ significantly in many cases, and there is considerable variation in spelling.

Feminine Given Names

Marie 3
Isabelle 3
Blanche 3
Marguerite 2
Agnes, Agnès 2

Masculine Given Names

Place Names used in Locative Surnames

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