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Francophone people often have prénoms composés, and I am told that the two hyphenated parts both compose one name and that I shouldn't address Jean-Jacques as Jean or Jacques, for example.

The question is whether this is also true between close people, like between family members. Does a mother always addresses her son as Jean-Jacques, not using shorter nicknames? If they do use nicknames, which part of prénoms composés are they often based on?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

As you can imagine, there is no rigid rule here, each relative or friend finding one nickname or another as they feel it to sound right, which is hard to sum up as strict rules.

So, looking at existing usages, one can note :

  • sometimes one use just one of the two parts as shortcut (so, yes, Jean for Jean-Jacques is rare but happens), often the first one of the two. This will only be used when noone has this shortcut as his real name (i.e. if there is already someone named Jean, this won't be Jean-Jacques's nickname...).

  • sometimes, the last part of the composite name is shortened, leading to Jean-Phi for Jean-Philippe for example.

  • there's also the possibility of using initials, quite used for some names, like :

    • JC (pronounced as capital letters, jicé) >>> Jean-Christian / Jean-Claude / Jean-Charles

    • JP (jipé) >>> Jean-Pierre / Jean-Patrick / Jean-Philippe

    • JB (jibé) >>> Jean-Bernard / Jean-Benoit

    • JF (ji-ef) >>> Jean-François, Jean-Frédéric

    • JD (jidé) >>> Jean-Damien

    • etc.

  • and probably some other custom transformations of course, I'll add some if any other pop up in mind later

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I would add that, at least in the province of Québec, you might encounter some people using initials with a deformed English pronunciation. For instance, in the example above, JC and JP could be pronounced djeecee and djeepee, as in the particular case of the J in French is pronounced a bit like the G in English. – Alexandre Vaillancourt Jan 6 '14 at 18:22
Also, I've seen cases where the mother and the father of the person with a prénom composé were not agreeing on a single prénom, so they ended up giving a prénom composé, the mother calling the child by the first name, and the father using the second name. – Alexandre Vaillancourt Jan 6 '14 at 18:26
@RomainVALERI Your third example may explain my own experience: my acquaintance Jean-François asked me to call him somewhat like JF (ji-ef). – Pteromys Jan 8 '14 at 8:59
@Pteromys Yes, this one is quite common too. JF, JC, JP are the most common, with some others a bit rarer, like JD or JB (Jean-Damien, Jean-Bernard) – Romain VALERI Jan 8 '14 at 10:20

Prénoms composés are a single first name, not a first and middle name as foreigners often believe.

I find it very annoying when called “Jean” while my first name is “Jean-Louis”.

French people do not use nicknames that much, and at least much less than Americans and in any case, it is almost never the first name of a compound one, especially when it is “Jean” which used to be very common case.

It is just like you don't refer to “San Francisco” as “San” or “New-York” as “New”.

It might be the last one though. I know people named "Pierre-Cyril" and "Marie-Ghislaine" who used to be called "Cyril" and "Ghislaine".

In any case, don't try to guess a nickname from someone's first name, there is no generic rule. Never use a nickname unless you know that other people already do it.

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I've seen some french people maintain confusion on prénom composé vs. first and middle name. E.g., Jean-Jacques using Jean J. with its international contacts. – mouviciel Jan 6 '14 at 10:28
I came to say never use a nickname unless you know other people already do it. I've also a compound given name and I'm not annoyed by people trying to use any shortened version of it, as nobody try without any hint. Sometimes initials, but the context then include a list where everybody is designated by their initials (and the initials include my family name). – Un francophone Jan 6 '14 at 10:36
We call my brother by the first half of its composed name more often than not, and another friend of mine does the same (granted, the two half of his name are very unusual — as in never heard of any of them before meeting him). – Édouard Jan 6 '14 at 10:59
@Édouard That's why I wrote almost never and not never. There are indeed always "exceptions" as there is no rule in the first place. – jlliagre Jan 6 '14 at 11:05
But if there is no such rule, why write your answer as if there was? – Édouard Jan 6 '14 at 11:48

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