French Language Blog

Who Changed the Names of the Parisian Neighborhoods? Posted by on Apr 3, 2014 in Vocabulary

Did you know that the names of many French cities were once completely changed, practically du jour au lendemain (overnight)?

Some of them had their age-old names simply canceled, such as Marseille, which became known as “Ville-sans-Nom” (“City-without-a-Name”)!

When did took place?

During the tumultuous times of la Révolution française, when the government decided the sudden déchristianisation of the country that was formerly known as “la fille aînée de l’Église” (“the eldest daughter of the Church.”)

Anything that smelled religion (such as “Saint-” something) or reminded people of the Ancient Régime had to be completely obliterated from the memories of the French people.

Today, we’ll go through five well-known parts and suburbs of Paris that lost their names—just provisoirement (temporarily), dieu merci (thank God):

  • The commune of Montrmartre, home of the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur, became known for a time as “Mont-Marat“, after the name of the Swiss-born revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat, whose assassination in a bathtub was immortalized by David in “la Mort de Marat.
  •  The commune of Belleville, located on the second highest hill in Paris (after “Mont-Marat”, I mean Montmartre), home of many young artists who open their ateliers in the spring time, was rebaptised by the French revolutionaries “Mont-Chalier.”
  •  Saint-Denis, the northern suburb of Paris, was called “Franciade“, a technical term of the French Republican calendar that refers to the four-year period at the end of which one has to add a day to keep the calendar in line with the solar year… That extra day was aptly called le jour de la révolution (“Revolution Day.”)
  • Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the commune west of Paris that lent its name to the football team PSG (as in Paris Saint-German) was given the name of  “Montagne-du-Bon-Air” (literally “Mountain-of-the-Good-Air.”)
  • Versailles, home of the famous palace of the “Sun-King”, changed its name to “Berceau-de-la-Liberté“, or “Cradle-of-Liberty”, since the “Estates-General” (meaning the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners) met there two months before June 20th, 1789. This name-change was quickly overturned, or “tué dans le berceau” (nipped in the cradle) if you will, as it did not seem to overly please its inhabitants.



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