Latest Shot in the French Government’s War on the Celtic Tongue of Brittany

The French Government’s war on Breton, the Celtic Tongue of Brittany, has taken a bizarre turn in a jaw dropping example of the pettiness of the state bureaucracy in France.  A couple in Brittany wanted to call their newborn baby boy Fañch, a traditional name in Brittany.  However, the local registrar rejected this Celtic name and refused to record the birth unless the parents chose an “approved” French name. Fañch is a name borne notably by two Breton writers, Fañch Peru and Fañch Broudig, and is the Breton version of the name François.

The complaints of the parents triggered a row between the regional council of Brittany and the Justice Ministry in Paris. The Council voted to push Paris to allow the use of the name. "It's about defending liberty, that of the choice of the parents. It's about a fundamental right, that's to say fighting linguistic discrimination," said regional councillor, Isabelle Le Bal. 

The website “The Local” which is linked below, reports that up until 1993 parents in France had to choose a name for their baby from a long list of acceptable "prenoms" laid out by authorities. The list was scrapped under President François Mitterand and French parents were given the liberty to be a little bit more inventive. However, courts can still ban names.

In the face of the animosity of the central governmnet towards the Breton language the Breton people maintain a fierce sense of independence, as displayed by their local customs and traditions. In common with other Celtic Nations in the past several years there has been a resurgence in Celtic identity.  The majority of the people of Brittany speak French with a significant Breton speaking minority.

The French government is hostile to regional languages and has historically discouraged the use of Breton. However through the efforts of the Bretons and their DIWAN (Breton language schools) children are being taught in their native language while they learn a standard curriculum. The DIWAN schools are supported by various groups, including the International Committee for the Defense of the Breton Language.

The website “Ethnologue” characterizes Brittany as benefitting from a strong nationalistic movement demanding recognition of the Celtic language ensuring a leading role in the schools, media, and public life. It is estimated that there are between 200,000 and 250,000 Breton speakers using Breton as an everyday language. In 1914 reportedly 90% (about 1 million) of the population of the western half of Brittany spoke Breton. In 1945 it was about 75%, and today, in all of Brittany the most optimistic estimate would be that 20% of Bretons can speak Breton. Brittany has a population of roughly 4 million, including the department of Loire-Atlantique separated from official Brittany in 1941.

This blog is provided for general informational purposes only. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone and not necessarily those of