5 French Words Originating from Names — French Vocabulary

In French, what do a bin and a hot air balloon have in common?

Well, une montgolfière (= a hot air balloon) and une poubelle (= a bin, a trashcan) are French vocabulary words that both originate from a specific French person’s name.

There’s a lot of words like this in French! And often, French people don’t even know about this origin of common French vocabulary.

For your general knowledge: When a person’s name becomes a common name, it’s called une antonomase. That’s not a word you’ll ever need to use (most French people don’t know it), but it’s interesting.

It’s a good way to se coucher moins bête (= to go to bed less stupid) !

→ This expression is pretty common and useful, though: se coucher moins bête (qu’on s’est levé)” = “to go to bed less ignorant (than when I got up)” = “to learn something new.”

Learning goals: This is what you’ll be able to do after watching this lesson

  • Learn 5 new French words, and know from whose name the originated 🙂

Bonjour c’est Géraldine.
Bienvenue sur Comme une Française. C’est parti !

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1) Une montgolfière

“A hot air balloon” = Une montgolfière. The “T” is silent, don’t pronounce it in the word!

This noun comes from les frères Montgolfier (the Montgolfier brothers):
Joseph-Michel, et Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier who invented the first prototype of a big hot air balloon in 1782.

They gave their name to their invention, by feminizing it:
Les Montgolfier → la montgolfière

By the way: in French, we never add an “S” at the end of proper nouns for their plural. → Les Montgolfier (no “S”). Les Simpson (= “The Simpsons”)

2) Une poubelle

Une poubelle is the French vocabulary word for a trashcan / a dustbin. Les déchets are “trash”, but we also use la poubelle as a word for everything that belongs inside a trashcan.

The word “poubelle” comes from Eugène-René Poubelle, who was Préfet (government representative / regional administrator) of the Parisian area in 1883.

He passed a law that “made it mandatory for landlords to provide common trashcans for their tenants, with a lid and enough space for household waste.”

Les déchets ménagers = household waste

All French people know this one! The fact that “poubelle” comes from a real person is a well-known fact that’s not often discussed. It’s part of the “silent” French culture that you can use to fit in better.

You’ll find a lot more of this “background knowledge” in Exercise your French – my course with lessons on French culture and plenty of tests to help you retain your knowledge.

3) Une praline

Une praline is a delicious confection made with sugar and nut. It’s made of une amande (= an almond) or une cacahuète (= a nut), wrapped in cooked sugar, sometimes with a red / pink coloring.

It was invented in the 17th century by Clément Jaluzot, who was un chef cuisinier (= a chef). He gave his confection the name of his employer, le maréchal de Plessis-PraslinLa praline.

It’s delicious, and you should try it if you ever find it in France! Especially in the area of Lyon (or Roanne nearby), where the have special cakes with pink pralines.

We have plenty of double meanings in French vocabulary. In France, un chef means “a leader / a boss” as well as un chef cuisinier (= a chef / a cook). That’s why when we talk about cooks, we tend to say “un chef cuisinier” for less ambiguity. But “un chef” is often enough to be understood.

4) Un kir

Un kir is a French cocktail, with white wine and black currants.

La crème de cassis (also known as la liqueur de cassis) is a sweet, dark red “liqueur” made with black currants.

The white wine used for this cocktail is supposed to be le vin blanc “Bourgogne-aligoté”, made with the special Aligoté variety of grape from the Burgundy region.

It was created in the early 20th-century in Burgundy, near the city of Dijon, with the simple name of “blanc-cassis”. Later, in 1951, a local company asked to name it after a famous local man: Félix Kir.

Felix Kir was a priest, a member of the French Resistance, and a charismatic politician. He was also the mayor of Dijon between 1945 and 1968.

He accepted the honor and allowed the company to give his name to the drink (though he didn’t invent it) for publicity reasons.

Nowadays, le kir is very popular in French café or receptions.

Le kir royal is a kir with champagne instead of white wine.

5) Un godillot

Un godillot means une (grosse) chaussure (= a big shoe), or walking boots. The “T” at the end is silent!

In the XIXth century, Emperor Napoléon III asked French shoemake Alexis Godillot to make new, reliable boots for the French army. These military shoes, les godillots, were solid and reliable and became popular for boy scouts and hikers.

In colloquial French, we’d rather use les gaudasses for “shoes” (especially when they’re big, reliable and not particularly fashionable.)

In politics, “godillots” means “lèche-bottes” (= boot-lickers) instead.


Your turn now! What is the French vocabulary word for:


  • A cocktail with “crème de cassis”
  • A trashcan
  • A hot air balloon



(Answer: un kir / une poubelle / une montgolfière)

-- Lesson Recap: What did you learn today? --

  • Une montgolfière (silent T)
  • Une poubelle
  • Une praline
  • Un kir
  • Un godillot (silent T)

Et toi ?

Comment retiens-tu le vocabulaire de la leçon?
How do you learn and remember the French vocabulary from your French lessons?

Share your answer in the comments!

For example: “J’imprime le PDF de la leçon et je le relis dans le métro.” (“I print out the lesson PDF doc, and I read it again in the subway.”)

Do you have a question about this lesson?
Share it in the comment area!

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→ If you enjoyed this lesson (and/or learned something new) – why not share this lesson with a francophile friend? You can talk about it afterwards! You’ll learn much more if you have social support from your friends 🙂

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Allez, salut 🙂

Join the conversation!

  • Thank you so much for your lessons. My wife and I are an senior couple from Utah, now serving our second mission in France for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have used your lessons for about 5 years, and they have helped me to learn French. To memorize words, phrases, and grammar, I keep a notebook, and review it from time to time.

  • Great, and these names occur to me ~
    La guillotine, which apparently took its
    name from one Dr Joseph Guillotin.
    Off with his head, as we say in English.
    Then there’s the Winchester repeating
    rifle, which aquired its name from a man
    named Oliver Winchester. You can’t think
    of John Wayne without thinking of a
    Winchester ~ watch out all those bad
    guys !
    But, after all this law and order we need
    some refreshment, and so I offer you a
    Guinness 🙂
    Arthur Guinness first brewed his famous
    stout in 1759 in Dublin, and a fine day’s
    work it was too. Praise be for such small
    mercies, which help us along our journey
    in life.
    Une leçon super chouette Géraldine ~
    merci beaucoup 😀 😀

  • J’aime bien me coucher moins bête, alors j’écris le nouveau vocabulaire dans un cailler pourque je puisse le relire plusieurs fois!

  • Après une « Géraldine », on se couche toujours moins bête! Pour retenir les mots, j’ai un dossier sur mon phone…je copie les mots, idées, astuces pour réviser plus tard.

  • Bonjour Géraldine,
    Mais tu as déjà construit la fusée qui part vers les étoiles. Elle s’appelle Comme une Française, mais pouvait bien être nommée Géraldine. La licorne quand même, s’appelle Victor.

  • Bonjour Géraldine merci beaucoup pour cet leçon. J’ai trouvé très intéressant l’histories des mots vous utilisez.
    Bonne journée

  • Salut Geraldine- comment allez vous jeune fille?- Je m’appelle Talia. Je retiens le vocabulaire de cette lecon par relire les mots. Je aussi fais des phrases en utilisant ces mots. Par example: 1. “J’aimerais boir un kir et manger une praline” 2. Mon mari Michel a sorti la pouble hier soir”. 3. ” Hier nous avons vu une montgofie’re qui a vole dans le ciel”. 4. “Il a porte’ des godillots pour monter la montagnes d’Alps”.

    • Bravo Talia !
      Voici quelques corrections :
      1. “J’aimerais boire un kir et manger une praline”
      2. Mon mari Michel a sorti la poubelle hier soir”.
      3. ” Hier nous avons vu une montgolfière qui a volé dans le ciel.”.
      4. “Il a porté des godillots pour marcher dans les Alpes”.

  • Merci, en Angleterre aussi on dit ‘Hoover’ comme un verbe, pour passer l’aspirateur. Example: ‘I hoovered the living room.’

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