In France, surnames or last name were first used in about the 11th century when it first became necessary to add a second name to distinguish between individuals with the same given name. Although The custom of using surnames did not become common for several centuries.
In some areas of France, especially in the mountainous regions of the Alps and the Pyrenees, individuals may have taken a second surname. The first part of the surname is usually the family surname. The second part of the surname may be a place, a house name, or a nickname.
French genealogical records may be in various languages: French, German, Latin, or Italian. Your ancestor's name could be in Latin in his birth record, in French in his marriage record, and in German on his death record.
Starting in 1474 anyone who wished to change his name was required to get permission from the King.
Most French surnames can be traced back to one of these four types:
Patronymic/Matronymic: Based on a parent's name, this is the most common category of French last names. Patronymic surnames are based on the father's name and matronymic surnames on the mother's name. In general, the mother's name was used only if the father was unknown.
Patronymic and matronymic surnames in France were formed in several different ways. The typical form of attaching a prefix or suffix that means "son of". Although the most Patronymic/Matronymic surnames, though, did not take prefixes or suffixes.
Occupational Surnames: It was also very common to distinguish individuals by referring to their jobs or trades. occupational surnames were very commone to distinguish individuals by referring to their jobs or trades such as Pierre Boulanger (baker), or Pierre, the baker, Berger (shepherd), Bisset (weaver), Boucher (butcher).
Descriptive Surnames: A descriptive surname is based on a unique quality of the individual. Descriptive surnames often developed from nicknames or pet names, such as Jacques Legrand, for Jacques.
Geographical Surnames: Geographical surnames described where a person lived or hailed from, such as: Beaulieu (beautiful place), Beaumont (beautiful hill), Chastain (near certain chestnut trees).
Babynamescube bring a comprehensive collection of French surnames/last names with meaning and history. Click on a surname to get details.