This article initially shows how in French dictionaries during the centuries of early modern and modern period the definition of sobriquet – a nickname added to a name and surname – gradually lost its character of hereditary transmission and acquired a mocking, offensive or injurious purpose attached to a particular individual. However, the few existing sources that include continuous reference to sobriquets show on the contrary the persistence of a hereditary transmission, sometimes even into the 19th century, usually in a direct line of descent. The nickname was part of a classificatory system that completed, at the local level, the more limited significance of the name and surname, and allowed everyone to be situated in relationship to others in terms of kinship (blood-relations) and alliance (affinity). This practice was likewise flexible, capable of adapting itself to short-term demographic changes but also to longer and deeper trends. A man could change sobriquet several times according to the deaths of his siblings and heiresses could pass on the sobriquet of their family. Someone who left their social group abandoned their original sobriquet, while rich branches of families distinguished themselves through the refusal of any “mocking, offensive or injurious sobriquet”.
Keywords: Nickname – Sobriquet – Surname – Anthroponomy – Kinship – Alliance – Consanguinity