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?

  • Both answers are interesting and right. Best thing to do might be to ask "How do you want to be addressed ?"
    – MakorDal
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 7:17

3 Answers 3


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 / Jean-Brice / Jean-Baptiste

    • 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

  • 1
    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.
    – user757
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 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.
    – user757
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 18:26
  • 1
    @RomainVALERI Your third example may explain my own experience: my acquaintance Jean-François asked me to call him somewhat like JF (ji-ef).
    – Pteromys
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 8:59
  • 1
    @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) Commented Jan 8, 2014 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.

  • 1
    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
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 10:28
  • 2
    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). Commented Jan 6, 2014 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
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 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
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 11:05
  • 1
    As a good example, all of my mother's family women are colled "Marie-Something". Most of them took nickname instead : Marie-Elise became Marlise or Elisabeth, Marie-Christine is called Christiane,...
    – MakorDal
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 7:15

You got good answers from everyone, but keep in mind that it's less common than it was.

I was born in 1995 and I have never got any classmate with a composed name. But my father has one. If you meet someone named Jean-Pierre, just call him Jean-Pierre unless you're close.

In France, names often depends on the age of the person, it will be common to find someone named Thierry or Jean-Philippe (30 years old +) but it will be pretty rare to find one who is less than 20.

In these 10 last years, many people named their children with a 'short name' as Léo, Lou etc. But composed names tend to disappear, at least for this generation.

  • 1
    "In France, names often depends on the age of the person" That's also the case in USA and other countries, no ?
    – Stéphane
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 10:35
  • 1
    That's not the case everywhere, I live near Swiss border (french speaking part) and many people have got 'old' name, you could find a young girl named Yvette in Switzerland which absolutely never happens in France. In US you can find a 80years old man named Tim as well as a 20 years old boy. In Iceland you can find grandfathers as well as babies named Ragnar. Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 17:18
  • Popularity curves for both Yvette in Switzerland and Tom in the US are in strongly disproving your point. bfs.admin.ch/bfs/portal/fr/index/themen/01/02/blank/dos/prenoms/… babynamewizard.com/…
    – jlliagre
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 12:16
  • 1
    It was 2 examples to show that it's not shocking if someone has got a 'old' name in many countries, but in France, as a student, it would be shocking if one of my classmates was named Jean-Pierre, Serge, Gilles or Jacqueline. Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 12:21
  • 1
    Nope, I probably chose a bad example with Yvette but it doesn't mean I am wrong, but probably you don't know what you're talking about. Actually I am double citizen French-Swiss and live at the border, I also lived at the German Border. What I said was right in both of these countries. Have you never met a german girl named Michelle ? Have you ever met a french girl named Michelle ? Probably you did but the french one was not less than 40-50 years old. That should give you some clues to understand it ;) By the way I said "You could meet", I have never said every Swiss girl's name is Yvette. Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 14:07

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