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Internet forums about children’s first names : between prescriptions and normativity

Laurence Charton, Catherine de Pierrepont

Research Framework : Internet, and particularly discussion forums, is an important medium for some mothers-to-be when the time comes to choose the first name for their child.

Objectives : This article examines the concerns and main criteria put forward when choosing a first name for a newborn and how users exchange information and ideas on these forums.

Methodology : The studied corpus is composed of posts from the 22 French forums of discussions selected on the site « Doctissimo », section « Baby Pregnancy », subsection « First names » posted by 198 netizens between September 2015 and December 2016 (about 722 pages in Word format). The content of these forums was analyzed according to the Ecuyer’s method (1990).

Results : Although choosing a first name is now more a matter of couples than family line (s), the search for a first name is still most often a « women’s business », as confirmed by the gendered use of these forums on first names, and by the importance given to gender and class distinctions which are observed through the prescriptions shared on the forums. These are grouped into three categories of criteria. The first underlines the importance of an « original » but « non-invented » first name. The second refers to a belonging or a social identity. The last one put forward a parental project. These criteria are deployed through nine types of exchanges (interactions) between Internet users.

Conclusions : These first name discussion forums offer advice, guidance and support to women with questions about the choice of their child’ first name. Also, for expectant mothers, it allows them to enroll in a maternity / parenting process. Through the stated criteria of choice of first names and the roles assigned to each future parent, the content of these forums also highlights social relations of gender and class.

Contribution : This exploratory study highlights some of the limits to the freedom to name one’s child. If prospective parents can choose the first name of their child outside the influence of their family, their relatives and institutional guidelines, to name remains an act under influence, highly standardized.