How to name your band (or hair salon, or restaurant) something French!

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French magnetic poetry on my fridge. Sometimes when I’m hanging out in the kitchen and watching my husband cook, I like to find rhymes. (I should note that, according to rules of French prosody, “enfer” doesn’t actually rhyme with “lunaire”, nor “désir” with “délire”. But whatever.)

So, I am a pedant. I admit it, I am! You can give a French teacher a summer fellowship, but she will remain a pedant regardless. Plus I haven’t had to correct anyone’s grammar in over a month. I start to get a little itchy, you know? So take this post in the light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek and very mildly obnoxious manner in which it is intended, please, and forgive me at the end.

Le Problème:

French sounds cool, doesn’t it? Yes, indeed. People have a lot of stereotypes about French, the French, and France, which frequently include a general idea that French is a beautiful, sophisticated language appropriate for discussing beautiful, sophisticated things, like art, revolution, or fashion. Now, I hate to disabuse people of this notion, for it is sometimes true—but I happen to be very egalitarian about languages. If people are speaking gently and saying wonderful things in, say, German (so often maligned), they will sound gentle and wonderful, too. If they are yelling SCHNELL! at prisoners in Hogan’s Heroes, of course it sounds bad. And French, too, sounds pretty nasty when people say nasty things in it.

However, because French has this reputation for beauty etc., sometimes people like to use it, even if they don’t know how. Often rock bands, probably for ironic purposes, will stick a le/la/les or l’ in front of their name. In Minneapolis, we have [names altered to protect the innocent those who have already printed their t-shirts] L’Amours and Le Boosterettes. Hair salons also like to trade on the idea that the French are fashionable or sophisticated, and thus, in Minneapolis, we have Bon La Tress. Restaurants? In St. Paul, there is the Bel Vie Café. I have nothing against any of these things, but as a French teacher, their names all make me feel like I should travel with a can of red spraypaint, tagging the world with AG.

This stands for “agreement.” French nouns have genders, masculine and feminine, and everything around them has to reflect that.

How do we solve this terrible scourge on humanity?!

Don’t worry! This is not a difficult issue. Here’s what you need to know: first off, if you’re naming your band with a plural (as in, more than one Amour or Boosterette) it’s les. Always les. Pronounced like “lay” except if the next word starts with a vowel, in which case it’s like “laze.” Les Amours, les Boosterettes. Easy!

If the name is singular, though, you need to know the gender. How do you find out? You can search it in Wordreference. Set it to French-English and type your chosen word in the box. If the word is a noun, the result will have either “nm” or “nf” or maybe “npl” written after it. If it says “nm,” that’s masculine, and you should use le. “Nf”? Use la. Exception to both of these: if the following word starts with a vowel, just use l’ and make it one word.

(While you’re looking up the gender, why not make sure that word means what you think it means? Or if it’s a word at all? Oh, I could name names.)

But I wanna use an adjective!

Sure! But you need to make it agree with the noun it’s modifying. That is, a feminine noun needs a feminine adjective. So first, figure out if your noun is masculine, feminine or plural. Then type your adjective into the search box. At the top of the page you’ll see “Inflections of [adjective]” and then all its various forms. Pick the right one, and the French teachers of the world will thank you.

But I wanna use a verb, or an adverb, or this thing I read in a magazine! And what about accents?

Okay, I don’t really feel like explaining all that… verbs… too complicated… desire to teach… waning…

I’m gonna name my band whatever I want!

Yeah, I kinda figured.

I don’t even care what you think!

LIKEWISE!

Well, that devolved. Here, let’s all hold hands and sing Foo Doo Fa Fa.

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