Game of Thrones — the French Baby Boys' Names Edition

On the map, the changing fortunes of French baby boys' names look like battles in a weird, unreported war. 

It's 1946, and France has won the Second World War (with some help from its allies). The nation is grateful to its liberator, général de Gaulle. But that doesn't mean mothers start naming their baby boys Charles after him. That kind of thing won't come into fashion for some years yet. For now, the most popular boys' name in France is Jean. As it is in most other Christian countries. As it has been, probably since the Middle Ages (1).

But by the middle of the 20th century, things start shifting. In France and elsewhere in the West, the Empire of John is coming to an end.

For the first few years after the war, all seems well — just a few local outbreaks of Michel, contained to Normandy, Burgundy/Franche-Comté and Poitou-Charentes.

But then, in 1949, the capital falls to Alain. Nobody saw that coming. The Alainists manage to break out, but are quickly destroyed, having their last stand in Basse Normandie in 1953.

By that time, however, Patrick has taken over Paris, and Nord-Pas de Calais, and other regions. Neither of these contenders will defeat Jean, though. That honour goes to yet another surprise candidate, Philippe, who in 1955 takes Paris, and three regions north of it.

By 1957, Philippe controls a band of territory from the Belgian border to the Bay of Biscayne, with an extra foothold on the Swiss border. A year later, his territory has grown yet further, and Pascal has joined the minor contenders. Jean's domain is cut into four shrinking bits. This is the last year of his reign.

Philippe's tenure will last from 1959 to 1966, but it will not be a happy one. Naturally, he will attempt to extend his dominion over the north to the south of France.

But even as he succeeds in mopping up pockets of Jean and even the last remaining stronghold of Patrick (in Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, in 1961), Pascal re-emerges building a power base in the north, and by 1962 even besieging Philippe in the capital.

By now firmly in control of the south, Philippe counter-attacks, lifting the siege on Paris and re-establishing a territorial link with the isolated north by 1963.

Barely a year later, disaster strikes. Out of nothing, Thierry sweeps through the north and centre, also taking over two southern regions. Pascal is annihilated, but that is little comfort to Philippe, who loses the throne to Thierry in 1965.

His briefest of reigns only lasts a year. By 1966, a triumphant Philippe has confined him to Aquitaine, in the southwest. This will prove a pyrrhic victory for Philippe, who clings to power for just one more year.


The shape of things to come was already visible on the 1966 map: with Philippe and Thierry exhausted by their struggle for dominance (and with a withered Jean holding on for dear life), Christophe swept the north.

In 1967, he was crowned king. Taking one of Jean's three remaining regions, Christophe now ruled the north unopposed, except for Brittany (Philippe territory) and Paris, held by Laurent, a new pretender.

The next year, Philippe was usurped in Brittany by Stéphane, who would go on to challenge Christophe for dominance in a struggle that would last until 1974.

During all of the Christophe/Stéphane era, the former would try in vain to conquer the capital, while the latter ruled Paris for five consecutive years (1970-'74). On the other hand, Stéphane was the national overlord for only two of those eight years, against Christophe's six.

At the close of the era, Christophe held on to the Mediterranean coast, while Stéphane controlled eastern France, with added power bases in Aquitaine and Normandy/Brittany.

Three new contenders had emerged: David in the north, Sébastien in the Centre and Poitou-Charentes, and Jérôme, holding on to the Pays de la Loire and Midi-Pyrenees regions.

Philippe had been erased from the map. Jean, the former supremo, was forced to watch the struggles on the mainland from his Taiwan-like exile on Corsica.


Now begins a time of three totalitarian rulers, each successively managing to do what even old king Jean never achieved: colouring the whole mainland in their name.

The first one was Sébastien, whose period in power began in 1975, as the top dog in a fragmented France. He soon set out to create order out of chaos, wiping various competitors off the map. In 1976, Christophe was the only mainland rival left, clinging to power in Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur. For two glorious years, Jean's Corsican exile was the only blemish on Sébastien's dominance.

How quickly the fortunes of onomasty change! In 1979, Nicolas carved out one single region for himself in Sébastien-dominated France. By 1980, Nicolas had swept across the mainland, leaving only Lorraine for Sébastien. The next year, Nicolas ruled over all of mainland France.

The last, and longest-ruling totalitarian broke Nicolas's monopoly after a single year. Julien carved out a narrow band of territory in the east, reminiscent of the ephemeral Middle Francia, created at the Treaty of Verdun (843).

This time, with reverse results: The strip gobbled up the rest of France. By 1984, Nicolas found himself isolated by Julien in Lorraine, exactly as he had kettled in Sébastien there in 1980.

The next three years, France turned entirely Julienist. Only by 1988 were there outbreaks of Nicolas, Romain and Anthony — who, in the previous year, had eliminated Jean from Corsica, thus ending the last vestiges of a name-giving tradition that may have started as long ago as the Crusades.


In 1989, a new strongman emerged on the scene, one which would dominate the next six years. Kévin would also be the last totalitarian, dominating all of mainland France in 1991 and 1992.

To get there, Kévin had to eliminate tough resistance by Maxime in Basse-Normandie; Nicolas, who attempted to set up a base in the Alsace region; Anthony, in the east; and Thomas and Jérémy in the southwest. All the while, Corsica was content to remain outside the mêlée, and loyal to Anthony, as it had been to Jean before.

Taking over Lorraine in 1993, Jordan broke the unanimity. The next year, Alexandre took over Paris, and Nicolas set up shop in the northeast, southeast, and southwest. Game over, Kévin.

In the ensuing chaos, Nicolas managed to regain the throne for a single year. But his rule proved too weak, and in 1996, Thomas began the first of his six years in power.

While he did manage to destroy an outbreak of Dylans, Thomas never managed to unify the country as previous title-holders had done. He was unable to contain a rash of Quentins, who briefly took over large swathes of western France; nor could he defeat the persistent threat posted by Lucas, operating from his power base in the east.

Lucas has great stamina: he came to power in 2002, and still was top dog in 2011. But he is less successful at cashing in on his dominance. His reign is punctuated by two interregnums.

Two years into his shaky first tenure, threatened by Théo, it is Enzo who almost wipes Lucas off the map in 2004.

Slowly rebuilding in the southeast, Lucas enters into a strategic alliance with Nathan, who dominates the northeast, to defeat Enzo. Lucas returns to power in 2008, but notices too late that Nathan has ideas beyond the station allotted to him.

Launching a three-pronged attack on Lucas from the northeast, southeast and northwest, Nathan grabs the throne in 2010. But his hold on power is too precarious, and Lucas still has enough stamina to regain the top spot.

That result has been achieved at great cost. In 2011, France is a house divided against itself. Nathan holds the north, northeast, the Pays de la Loire, and Languedoc-Roussillon in the south. The aim is clear: to attack towards the centre, and unite the disparate territories in a final victory. But Enzo has similarly placed possessions, and surely, similar plans.

Lucas won't give up without a fight, and may use the newest bunch of candidates for the top job against his old enemies: Adam in Paris, Nolan in Brittany, Gabriel in Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, and Lisandru in Corsica...

Many thanks to Milan Prabhu for sharing these maps on Facebook. See an animated version here. Source: Les Décodeurs, an online behind-the-news section of Le Monde, with an excellent data visualisation segment.

Strange Maps #763

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(1) The name's enduring appeal was based on the popularity of John the Baptist and John the Apostle (considered by the Church Fathers as identical to John the Evangelist). It derives from the Hebrew Yohanan ('graced by Yah') or Yehohanan ('Yahweh is gracious'). Some popular vernacular variations include Ivan (Russian and other Slavic languages); Jan, Johan(n) and Hans (German and other Germanic languages); João and Ivo (Portuguese); Jens (Danish); Juan (Spanish); Ian, Jock (Scottish); and Sean (Irish).

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Why Epicurean ideas suit the challenges of modern secular life

Sure, Epicureans focused on seeking pleasure – but they also did so much more.

Antonio Masiello/Getty Images
Culture & Religion

'The pursuit of Happiness' is a famous phrase in a famous document, the United States Declaration of Independence (1776). But few know that its author was inspired by an ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus. Thomas Jefferson considered himself an Epicurean. He probably found the phrase in John Locke, who, like Thomas Hobbes, David Hume and Adam Smith, had also been influenced by Epicurus.

Nowadays, educated English-speaking urbanites might call you an epicure if you complain to a waiter about over-salted soup, and stoical if you don't. In the popular mind, an epicure fine-tunes pleasure, consuming beautifully, while a stoic lives a life of virtue, pleasure sublimated for good. But this doesn't do justice to Epicurus, who came closest of all the ancient philosophers to understanding the challenges of modern secular life.

Epicureanism competed with Stoicism to dominate Greek and Roman culture. Born in 341 BCE, only six years after Plato's death, Epicurus came of age at a good time to achieve influence. He was 18 when Alexander the Great died at the tail end of classical Greece – identified through its collection of independent city-states – and the emergence of the dynastic rule that spread across the Persian Empire. Zeno, who founded Stoicism in Cyprus and later taught it in Athens, lived during the same period. Later, the Roman Stoic Seneca both critiqued Epicurus and quoted him favourably.

Today, these two great contesting philosophies of ancient times have been reduced to attitudes about comfort and pleasure – will you send back the soup or not? That very misunderstanding tells me that Epicurean ideas won, hands down, though bowdlerised, without the full logic of the philosophy. Epicureans were concerned with how people felt. The Stoics focused on a hierarchy of value. If the Stoics had won, stoical would now mean noble and an epicure would be trivial.

Epicureans did focus on seeking pleasure – but they did so much more. They talked as much about reducing pain – and even more about being rational. They were interested in intelligent living, an idea that has evolved in our day to mean knowledgeable consumption. But equating knowing what will make you happiest with knowing the best wine means Epicurus is misunderstood.

The rationality he wedded to democracy relied on science. We now know Epicurus mainly through a poem, De rerum natura, or 'On the Nature of Things', a 7,400 line exposition by the Roman philosopher Lucretius, who lived c250 years after Epicurus. The poem was circulated only among a small number of people of letters until it was said to be rediscovered in the 15th century, when it radically challenged Christianity.

Its principles read as astonishingly modern, down to the physics. In six books, Lucretius states that everything is made of invisible particles, space and time are infinite, nature is an endless experiment, human society began as a battle to survive, there is no afterlife, religions are cruel delusions, and the universe has no clear purpose. The world is material – with a smidgen of free will. How should we live? Rationally, by dropping illusion. False ideas largely make us unhappy. If we minimise the pain they cause, we maximise our pleasure.

Secular moderns are so Epicurean that we might not hear this thunderclap. He didn't stress perfectionism or fine discriminations in pleasure – sending back the soup. He understood what the Buddhists call samsara, the suffering of endless craving. Pleasures are poisoned when we require that they do not end. So, for example, it is natural to enjoy sex, but sex will make you unhappy if you hope to possess your lover for all time.

Epicurus also seems uncannily modern in his attitude to parenting. Children are likely to bring at least as much pain as pleasure, he noted, so you might want to skip it. Modern couples who choose to be 'child-free' fit within the largely Epicurean culture we have today. Does it make sense to tell people to pursue their happiness and then expect them to take on decades of responsibility for other humans? Well, maybe, if you seek meaning. Our idea of meaning is something like the virtue embraced by the Stoics, who claimed it would bring you happiness.

Both the Stoics and the Epicureans understood that some good things are better than others. Thus you necessarily run into choices, and the need to forgo one good to protect or gain another. When you make those choices wisely, you'll be happier. But the Stoics think you'll be acting in line with a grand plan by a just grand designer, and the Epicureans don't.

As secular moderns, we pursue short-term happiness and achieve deeper pleasure in work well done. We seek the esteem of peers. It all makes sense in the light of science, which has documented that happiness for most of us arises from social ties – not the perfect rose garden or a closet of haute couture. Epicurus would not only appreciate the science, but was a big fan of friendship.

The Stoics and Epicureans diverge when it comes to politics. Epicurus thought politics brought only frustration. The Stoics believed that you should engage in politics as virtuously as you can. Here in the US where I live, half the country refrains from voting in non-presidential years, which seems Epicurean at heart.

Yet Epicurus was a democrat. In a garden on the outskirts of Athens, he set up a school scandalously open to women and slaves – a practice that his contemporaries saw as proof of his depravity. When Jefferson advocated education for American slaves, he might have had Epicurus in mind.

I imagine Epicurus would see far more consumption than necessary in my own American life and too little self-discipline. Above all, he wanted us to take responsibility for our choices. Here he is in his Letter to Menoeceus:

For it is not drinking bouts and continuous partying and enjoying boys and women, or consuming fish and the other dainties of an extravagant table, which produce the pleasant life, but sober calculation which searches out the reasons for every choice and avoidance and drives out the opinions which are the source of the greatest turmoil for men's souls.

Do you see the 'pursuit of happiness' as a tough research project and kick yourself when you're glum? You're Epicurean. We think of the Stoics as tougher, but they provided the comfort of faith. Accept your fate, they said. Epicurus said: It's a mess. Be smarter than the rest of them. How modern can you get?Aeon counter – do not remove

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons. Read the original article.

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