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Le, la ou lez

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One of the names that intrigued me in my early days in France was Castelnau-le-Lez. "Couldn't they decide?" I wondered. When I moved to Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse and dutifully entered the correct address into my computer, I started receiving letters to Saint-Rémy-les-Chevreuses. Nothing major in the grand scheme of things, this is how names and words change over time. Luckily, otherwise English would not exist.

But wrong. It is not Saint-Rémy-the-female-goatherds but Saint-Rémy-outside-Chevreuse, the latter being its neighboring town, once <i>château</i>. It comes from Latin latus, beside (in French au large de or près de and is spelled in as many ways as possible. The name with the most variants seems to be Auchy, all in the northern corner of France, with Auchy-lès-Hesdin, just 10 ENE of Hesdin (and 6 km south of Agincourt!) and Auchy-lez-Orchies, some 4 km WNW of Orchies (which has nothing to do with testicles as its name would seem to suggest, but comes from Flemish), both clearly reflecting their respective proximity. Further north there's Auchy-les-Mines, probably named after local mining industry like so many other municipalities in France (some 30-odd all told) and where the les could also just mean the, as it does in names like Aix-les-Bains, although this is obviously not the rule. Another "beside" name is Auchy-la-Montagne, which, at 177 m above sea level does not suggest craggy heights and may be associated with nearby (30 km) Montagne de Frémontiers, where the suffix -montiers often suggested a monastery, and the ascension from mont (hill, mountain) to montagne (real mountain) begins with but one small step. Auchy-au-Bois, or Auchy in the woods, just shows France's charming tendency towards the decorative. The le of Castelnau-le-Lez occurs in at least one hundred castle neighbors (Whatnot-le-Château/Châtel/Castel/Châtelet) and the only one missing, seems to have disappeared in the 16th C.

And some towns just leave you bemused: Choqueuse-les-Bénards – trouser shocker?...

Once again, France's famous credo, "Ce qui n'est pas clair n'est pas français" (if it ain’t clear, it ain’t French), comes a-tumbling down.

There is however a simple rule to make sure you get it right (if you can be bothered): look it up!

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Guest mardi, 25 février 2020
Vous êtes ici : Home Frogologoblog Simon Le, la ou lez