diacritic Trema over an "i" in a French name?

We’re expecting a French foreign exchange student and we’re not sure how to say her name. She’s got a “ï” in her name- something I never saw when I studied French.

Of course, it’s possible that her name is not of French origin (although, doesn’t the French Government limit parents to a choice of, like, 12 approved names for newborns?).

Anyway, the name is: Maïlys

Ummmmmm, how do we say that name?

The tréma, or dieresis, over the second letter of a two-vowel pair means to pronounce each vowel separately instead of as a combination. Normally, in French ai is pronounced somewhat similarly to eh, but with the tréma, aï is pronounced ah-ee. And so, to now give you the information that you’re looking for, Maïlys is pronounced roughly the same as My lease.

Thanks, RadicalPi.

So, it’s still a two syllable name? the “a” and the “ï” don’t get there own syllables?

“My-lease” with the emphasis on the “My” or on the “-lease”?

This might help. (It’s pretty accurate.)

I suppose that Mah-ee-lease would be acceptable as well, but I wouldn’t harp on the ee too much. Just say the y of my a bit slower than you normally would in English.

ETA: Oh, and the emphasis would ideally be all parts about the same, or a bit more emphasis on the lease.

Thanks, both of you.
We now ought to be able to give her a proper bienvenue without mangling her name too much.

Ah, that explains why I’ve seen “coöperate”.

And I hope you get to ask her how to pronounce her name, and that it’s a non-awkward moment.

[mailis]. I’ve never seen this name before, but that’s the obvious way to pronounce it in French. And it’s three syllables. As someone said, the dieresis on the ‘ï’ means that both vowels are pronounced separately instead of being combined into another vowel. (“Mailys”, without dieresis, would probably be pronounced somewhat like [me:lis].)

I have no idea what the origin of this name is; it may be a recent invention. And no, there definitely isn’t a list of 12 (!) approved names for newborns in France. I think there used to be a list at some point, but it was much longer (for one, any saint’s name is definitely acceptable, and there are a whole bunch of saints), and today, while I think it’d be possible for the government to refuse a (extraordinarily ill-conceived) name, it’s extremely rare. And you’re certainly aware that in the last few decades, the number of names in common use has exploded, especially among girls.

My guess on the origin of the name: “mai”, meaning the month of May, even though it’s pronounced more like the Germans would pronounce “Mai”, and “lys”, meaning lily. So, May-lily in English.

First of all, this is a Breton name. Its root is Celtic *maglo- meaning “large, great”, and in the masculine form maël is attested since the time when French was still Latin. I’m not sure what the suffix is, but it may just be the feminine -ez (-ess).

bienville’s “12” was an exaggeration, but in many places Bretons were not allowed to give Breton-language names to their children. Breton saints’ names were definitely not acceptable except in cases where there was a French equivalent. (For example, I know a Gweltaz whose official name is Gildas, the same name but certainly not the same sound). I don’t think it was a national law, and I can’t find an authoritative cite to say it was, but it was certainly a widespread practice. Not unknown elsewhere: I have met American Catholics where a priests overrode the parents’ decision.

If she is Breton, bienville, you could always say degemer mat (“welcome”) (roughly day-ghem-err maht, with French vowels and R but a hard G and final consonants pronounced). Of course even with a Breton name she probably doesn’t speak Breton, and her parents may have picked the name out of a hat anyway.

In fact, it lasted until maybe 10 years ago, 15 at most.

Originally the statute (voted during the revolutionary era) allowed names of saints and names of famous people of the antiquity (covering in particular Jewish names comping from the bible). Later, traditional names from other countries became acceptable too (due to the number of immigrants).

So, there wasn’t really a list. You had to give your child a traditional name. It was up to the public servant registering births to decide whether the name you picked was acceptable or not (he could refuse it for other reasons, like the combo first name+ family name opening to ridicule; more generally if he thought the name would be harmful to the kid). Obviously he could be lenient or not (such a guy refused a slight, and very nice IMO, orthographic variation of an existing name for one of my nieces).

If the name you picked was rejected, you had to go to court and basically prove that it was indeed a traditional name in western Somewhereastan where you were coming from. Courts wouldn’t be “lenient” obviously. If it wasn’t actually traditional, you were out of luck.
Nowadays, you can pick whatever you want and be as creative as you see fit. The civil servant registering the name still can oppose it in the interest of the kid (say, your son will be called after a famous serial killer, or you obviously like bad puns, or the name is insulting, etc…). In this case, however, the system is reversed. He will have to contact the local prosecutor, who will then decide if the issue of your kid’s name is worth the time of a court. If he thinks so, and the court finds that there’s indeed an issue with the name, you’ll have then to choose another one.

Oh, and by the way, Maylis (or Maÿlis, or Maïlis, since the “y” is sounded separately, something that isn’t obvious in the traditional form that lacks an accent) isn’t an unheard of name in France.

I looked up for the etymology, but found three different ones : hebraic (a variation of Marie/Mary, in fact) or Gascon for “Mother of the flowers”, or the name of an abbey relatively famous ar some point (basically, “Our lady of Maylis”).
In any case, this name isn’t a novelty, nor is the way it’s pronounced.

That’s what I thought when I saw the name. It’s pronunciation is under a different set of rules than French which is Latin-derived.

Or maybe at least part of her family has Breton heritage and they named her that to celebrate it.

Incidentally, how distinctive do people from Brittany sound compared with the rest of France? Some English-speaking people have trouble trying understand what people from Scotland, Ireland, or Wales are saying and I was wondering if some French speakers have the same problem with people who speak French with a Breton accent.

My experience is limited, but Bretons speaking French (whether first-language Breton or first-language Gallo) are fairly easy to understand.

As for the alternative etymologies given above, they don’t seem very strong. The orthography for this version is obviously French rather than pure Breton (where ys isn’t a possible combination: the drowned city of Ys is Is or Iz in Breton).

I have encountered a Glaswegian (with a really strong accent) who didn’t understand what a person from Elgin (also with a strong, but different, accent) was saying.

It doesnt work like that, every year there’s a letter picked, and every French kid has to get a name starting with that letter. You have to get them tatooed afterwards.

Yes, My Liss. Not very hard to pronounce for English speakers.

No it’s not. It might have Celtic origins, as most of France has, but it is far more popular in the Southwest of France than in Brittany. Definitely not a Breton specific name.

Hmm, IIRC, the repeal of that rule happened in the very early nineties. Anyway, the list was pretty extensive, even with those limitations. And you didnt have to prove anything if you gave a foreign exotic name, except if it sounded really weird in French.

Well, I didn’t say it was exclusively Breton (thus my comment about pulling the name out of a hat), but if French people are using it I agree “Breton origins” is better than “Breton name”. Just to clear up a bit, though: most of France has a Celtic substrate (though some of the Southwest is Basque instead). You can’t really compare the two, though; 20th-century Bretons and 4th-cenutry Gauls are both Celtic, but they don’t have a whole lot in common.

This is where you get it totally wrong. It is not a Breton name that happened to find some popularity in other parts of France, including the Southwest. It is a name indigenous to the SW of France.
Maybe Brittany also has Maylis as a popular name (though I never encountered a Breton Maylis, and I used to go regularly to Brittany for some time), but all the Maylis that I have met in my lifetime (not that many, but still) had French SW origins.

So, no, it doesnt have “Breton origins”.

Can you give a valid etymology for a name other than Breton?

That’s the wiki page on the Maylis name

It’s in French (I dont know if you speak French or not), but basically it says that the name Maylis, Maïlis, Maïlys, Mailys, Maÿlis or Mailís is an Occitan name. Occitan being a dialect of SW France. It also says that the French départements where the Maylis name is the most popular are Landes and Pyrénées Atlantiques, which are totally SW French. And it gives the origin of the popularity of the name there because of the village of Maylis ( Maylis - Wikipedia ).

Article also says:

Outside of its region of origins (dont know if that’s proper English…but it definitely implies that most people with that name are SW French), the name Maelis (or Maeli) is often thought as being related. Maelis itself being a Breton name.
Ok, that’s just the wiki page, and not the most serious wiki page you could find (as it doesnt seem to have had that many corrections). The page claims that the very first use of the name was in 1932 (which seems strange if the name was around for long as the name of a village. Strange but not impossible, names trends are sometimes puzzling).

That said, nobody is forced to be SW French nor Breton to have the right to go by that name, but I’m ready to bet that bienville’s visitor hails from SW France or has SW French origins.