Humanities › History & Culture French Surname Meanings and Origins Uncover Your French Heritage Share Flipboard Email Print Howard Kingsnorth/Getty Images History & Culture Genealogy Surnames Basics Genealogy Fun Vital Records Around the World American History African American History African History Ancient History and Culture Asian History European History Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More by Kimberly Powell Kimberly Powell, professional genealogist, author and educator, is the author of The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy. Updated November 27, 2018 Coming from the medieval French word 'surnom' translating as "above-or-over name," surnames or descriptive names trace their use in France back to 11th century when it first became necessary to add a second name to distinguish between individuals with the same given name. The custom of using surnames did not become common for several centuries, however. Most French surnames can be traced back to one of these four types: 1) Patronymic & Matronymic Surnames Based on a parent’s name, patronyms and matronyms are the most common method French last names were constructed. Patronymic surnames are based on the father's name and matronymic surnames on the mother's name. The mother's name was usually used only when the father's name was unknown. Patronymic and matronymic surnames in France were formed in several different ways. The typical form of attaching a prefix or suffix that means "son of" (e.g., de, des, du, lu, or the Norman fitz) to a given name was less common in France that in many European countries, but still prevalent. Examples include Jean de Gaulle, meaning "John, son of Gaulle," or Tomas FitzRobert, or "Tomas, son of Robert." Suffixes meaning "little son of" (-eau, -elet, -elin, elle, elet, etc.) may have also been used. The majority of French patronymic and matronymic surnames have no identifying prefix, however, being direct derivations of the parent's given name, such as August Landry, for "August, son of Landri," or Tomas Robert, for "Tomas, son of Robert." 2) Occupational Surnames Also very common among French surnames, occupational last names are based on the person’s job or trade, such as Pierre Boulanger [baker], or "Pierre, the baker." Several common occupations found prevalently as French surnames include Berger (shepherd), Bisset (weaver), Boucher (butcher), Caron (cartwright), Charpentier (carpenter), Fabron (blacksmith), Fournier (baker), Gagne (farmer), Lefebvre (craftsman or blacksmith), Marchand (merchant) and Pelletier (fur trader). 3) Descriptive Surnames Based on a unique quality of the individual, descriptive French surnames often developed from nicknames or pet names, such as Jacques Legrand, for Jacques, "the big."Other common examples include Petit (small), LeBlanc (blonde hair or fair complexion), Brun (brown hair or dark complexion), and Roux (red hair or ruddy complexion). 4) Geographical Surnames Geographical or habitational French surnames are based on a person’s residence, often a former residence (e.g., Yvonne Marseille means Yvonne from the village of Marseille). They may also describe the individual's specific location within a village or town, such as Michel Léglise (church), who lived next to the church. The prefixes "de," "des," "du," and "le" which translate as "of" may also be found used in geographical French surnames. Alias Surnames or Dit Names In some areas of France, a second surname may have been adopted to distinguish between different branches of the same family, especially when the families remained in the same town for generations. These alias surnames can often be found preceded by the word "dit." Sometimes an individual even adopted the dit name as the family name and dropped the original surname. This practice was most common in France among soldiers and sailors. Germanic Origins of French Names As so many French surnames are derived from first names, it is important to know that many common French first names have Germanic origins, coming into fashion during German invasions into France. Therefore, having a name with Germanic origins does not necessarily mean that you have German ancestors! Official Name Changes in France Beginning in 1474, anyone who wished to change his name was required to get permission from the King. These official name changes can be found indexed in: L' Archiviste Jérôme. Dictionnaire des changements de noms de 1803–1956 (Dictionary of changed names from 1803 to 1956). Paris: Librairie Francaise, 1974. Meanings & Origins of Common French Surnames 1. MARTIN 26. DUPONT 2. BERNARD 27. LAMBERT 3. DUBOIS 28. BONNET 4. THOMAS 29. FRANCOIS 5. ROBERT 30. MARTINEZ 6. RICHARD 31. LEGRAND 7. PETIT 32. GARNIER 8. DURAND 33. FAURE 9. LEROY 34. ROUSSEAU 10. MOREAU 35. BLANC 11. SIMON 36. GUERIN 12. LAURENT 37. MULLER 13. LEFEBVRE 38. HENRY 14. MICHEL 39. ROUSSEL 15. GARCIA 40. NICOLAS 16. DAVID 41. PERRIN 17. BERTRAND 42. MORIN 18. ROUX 43. MATHIEU 19. VINCENT 44. CLEMENT 20. FOURNIER 45. GAUTHIER 21. MOREL 46. DUMONT 22. GIRARD 47. LOPEZ 23. ANDRE 48. FONTAINE 24. LEFEVRE 49. CHEVALIER 25. MERCIER 50. ROBIN Continue Reading Find Out the Meaning of Your Italian Last Name What Does Your Scottish Surname Mean? Most common names in England are places, families and occupations Here's How to Find out What Your German Last Name Means Learn the History of Hispanic Last Names DUBOIS Surname Meaning and Origin 50 Most Common Polish Surnames—Meanings and Origins Ives, the Surname With French Origins LEFEBVRE - Surname Meaning and Family History MOREL - Surname Meaning and Family History What Does Your Italian Last Name Mean? Richard Surname Meaning and Family History Bertrand Surname Meaning and Family History Dumont Surname Meaning and Family History What Does My Last Name Mean? What Is a Dit Name in French-Canadian Genealogy?