Nov 25, 2013

My Best Friend, What's-Her-Name: Ardi-Gasna


Pippa comes home from her very first day school in Paris excited to tell us "I have a best friend! I played with her all day!"

"What's her name?"

"I don't know. I think it starts with a 'Sss' sound..."

And so it goes. Gigi and I still need to ask a few times to get a name right. But for poor Pippa and Anthony, neither of whom are terribly good with names anyway, it may take weeks or months. Pippa is the girl who once described her best friend, the child with whom she had played every day at school for nearly two solid years, as "that girl with curly hair."
I am happy to report that by now Pippa and Gigi do, in fact, know their friends' names. But there are still more to learn, and each time we find ourselves asking, "Say that again? How do you spell that?" and repeating the same rigamarole the second and even third time we meet someone new.

From around 1800 until 1966, all names given on birth certificates in France had to be selected from a pre-approved list of traditional Christian/French origin. Hence, a lot of people named Marie, Jeanne, Pierre, Paul, Jacques, and not a lot of Mohammeds in those generations. Many French people have compound names, and the second one may be in honor of somebody of the other gender but will remain unchanged: We know a woman named Marie-José, and a man named Jean-Marie. After 1966, the law expanded the approved list to include some foreign names, alternate spellings, and non-Christian names. But in 1993, the French jumped on the Apple-Insepktor-Rumer bandwagon and changed the law so that you could pretty much name your child anything, or Enneething, if you prefer. They do still retain the juridic right to refuse patently ridiculous or offensive names (as we do in the US: no swear words, numbers, etc.). That, plus the seemingly world-wide retro trend, means that there are names that are either so new you've never heard of them or so old they're new again -- and especially to non-native speakers.

Some of the names we've had to learn include: (girls) Gersende, Aubane, Cypriane, Héléa, Léonine, Blandine, Thaïs, Thamar, Elvire, Laëtitia, Mylène, Arlette, Giel, Faustine, Cléophée, Circé, Klérvi, Isaline, Isolde, Calyste, Adalaïde, Maëlis, Mahé, Naïs, Onyx, Ursuline, (boys) Ghislain, Ammoury, Gamaliel, Yannick, Hadrien, Augustin, Naïl, Noyan, and Tancrède.

Some other lists that might interest you:

According to magicmaman.com, the top 30 girls' names in France from 2003-2005, the years Pippa and Gigi were born: Zoe, Sarah, Romane, Pauline, Oceane, Noemie, Mathilde, Marine, Marie, Manon, Maeva, Lucie, Louise, Lola, Lena, Lea, Laura, Justine, Juliette, Julie, Jade, Inès, Eva, Emma, Clara, Chloé, Charlotte, Celia, Camille, Anaïs. My kids have girls with at least 10 of those names in their classes. When somebody says "Inès" in our house, we have three to pick from.

The top 30 boys's names in France from 2003-2005: Valentin, Tom, Thomas, Théo, Romain, Raphaël, Quentin, Pierre, Paul, Nicolas, Nathan, Maxime, Matteo, Mathis, Lucas, Louis, Leo, Julien, Jules, Hugo, Dylan, Clément, Benjamin, Baptiste, Axel, Arthur, Antoine, Alexis, Alexandre, Adrien, and my girls have about a dozen of those in their classes.

And the most popular current baby names are: (boys) Lucas, Jules, Arthur, Timéo, Gabriel, Enzo, Adam, Théo, Sacha, Clément, Yanis, Hugo, Mathis, Alexandre, Thomas, Raphaël, Nicolas, (girls) Olivia, Louise, Jade, Camille, Emma, Chloé, Inès, Clara, Zoé, Léa, Manon, Lisa, Pauline, Anaïs, Lola, and Lucie.

THE CHEESE: Ardi-Gasna

From the Pyrenées, the name of this cheese is pronounced "Ardy Gash-NA"; the words themselves are of Basque origin, as you might have guessed if you are a language and geography nerd, and mean "ewe cheese". It is made from raw, whole sheep's milk aged at least three months, and the result is a slightly moist hard cheese with many of the same wonderful qualities as popular hard cow's cheeses -- a sweet nuttiness mixed in with the salt. But you can still taste that slight extra gaminess that a sheep cheese possesses. As with all sheep cheeses from the Pyrenees, Ardi-Gasna is also quite lovely served with cherries or cherry jam.


The name is hard to pronounce and hard to remember, even if we all like the cheese whole-heartedly.


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