Amicie, the discreet secret of the aristocracy

VSome very rare first names are preserved today as treasures. Because each name is a bit like a coin, which retains its value as long as it is not too widespread, or as long as it circulates only in a small market.

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In our contemporary society, fashions circulate quickly, and it only takes a few years for all baby boys to become Gabriel, whereas, ten years before, this name was rare. And if it isn’t Gabriel, it will be Hugo. Every first name is different, but these differences are often microscopic.

Symbolic barriers

These micro-differences, some parents hold on to. For about fifty years, the choices of the families of the Bottin mondain, of those who live in the beautiful districts of Paris or Lyon or who have a birth announcement published in the notebook of the Figaro, began to differ from the choices of the rest of the French. When certain social boundaries are easier to cross, we can add symbolic barriers (which, in addition, cost nothing). Hence the use of esoteric registers, secret first names, reserved for initiates.

Among these first names, we will find Guillemette and Domitille. For several decades, since the 1960s, these first names have been able to circulate silently, in a small world. But they too are aging, becoming too well known, too “typed”. Same thing with Pia or Quitterie.

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Hence the current recourse to a new secret first name: Amicie, a rare first name, very rare (barely 20 births each year in France). But it is not uncommon everywhere. If I believe the data to which I have access, if you come across an Amicie, you have a one in two chance that her last name (or that of her mother) has a particle. Amicie is often “Amicie de Quelque-Chose” (and her middle name is Marie).

Its appeal comes from its rarity, and the type of market in which it operates. Amicie is the discreet secret of the aristocracy. So what have I done by selling the wick? Give it to the peasants?

Baptiste Coulmont is professor of sociology at the Ecole normale supérieure Paris-Saclay, author of “Sociologie des prénoms” (La Découverte, 2014, 130 p., 10 €) and, with Pierre Mercklé, of “Why top-models do not smile . Sociological chronicles ”(Presses des Mines, 2020, 184 p., € 29).