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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 June, 2005, 18:30 GMT 19:30 UK
Solving the Villepin name riddle
Dominique de Villepin
Dominique Marie Francois Rene Galouzeau de Villepin is too long
Commentators are grappling with many questions about the new French prime minister appointed on Tuesday.

Can he restore France's EU standing? Is he a reformist? Can he work with his rival, Nicolas Sarkozy?

But one question divides analysts more than any other. What do you call him? His full name, Dominique Marie Francois Rene Galouzeau de Villepin, is out.

So which short version is correct: Mr Villepin or Mr de Villepin? Should the "De" be capitalised or not?

It is not just foreign media, including the BBC, that seems confused. French newspapers are too.

Le Monde - often called the "newspaper of reference" - mostly refers to Mr de Villepin, but is not consistent.

The Communist L'Humanite - perhaps out of disdain for the aristocratic "de" - tends to plump for Mr Villepin.

Official fog

Can government websites help?

A May 2002 press release from the foreign ministry - which he headed at the time - proclaimed that "Mr de Villepin [had] reviewed bilateral relations" with Morocco.

But two months later, the ministry referred to a "working dinner between Mr Villepin and his German counterpart".

If you use an honorific, like Monsieur, you keep the particle
Blanche de Kersaint
Bottin Mondain

There is no point reaching for the Larousse encyclopaedia to shed light on the issue - three years in government have not been enough to give the man an entry.

Readers may be tempted to reach for a bottle of rouge instead. But help is at hand.

"It is Dominique de Villepin. And if you use an honorific, like Monsieur, you keep the particle," Blanche de Kersaint of the Bottin Mondain - France's high-society directory - told the BBC News website.

What if you lose the Monsieur? Did "de Villepin" shake the president's hand, or was it plain "Villepin"?

"Villepin did. In that case the particle goes."

The rule is this - a "de" attached to a single-syllable name stays no matter what. Anything longer, and removal of the honorific means removal of the "de".

So you read de Gaulle's books, but you peruse Tocqueville's works - and Villepin's, as the minister is also an author.

And "de", by the way, is NEVER capitalised.


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