Naming La Lune

Shot in the dark

Since I’ve changed my blog’s name, I’ve also done a bit of research about La Lune, our lieu-dit. In addition to my Kindle, I received a proper printed book for my recent birthday. Knowing my addiction to history – I wonder why I wasn’t quite so interested when I read it at uni? – the SF bought me a book about place names in southern France. We had a fascinating walk at Espinas in the summer when an expert explained the origins of local place names.

Until very recently, Occitan was the language spoken in southern France below a line from the Gironde to the Italian valleys with a bulge going around most of the Limousin. It is divided into four main variants: gascon, nord-occitan, languedocien and provençal. Even within those variants there are countless variations, so that specific words often differ between villages.

Many place names around here have their roots in medieval Occitan. A lot of them go back to Roman or pre-Roman times. In many cases a place name had several incarnations with Occitan and then French spelling and pronunciation overlaid on top.

We have often wondered about the origins of our area (lieu-dit), known as La Lune. I have never thought it had anything to do with the moon and M. Burgan, our guide at Espinas that day, agreed. He was unable to offer an explanation but thought it was a distortion of another word or name.

Book about Occitan place names

Armed with my new book, I have come up with some options for its origins. I didn’t find anywhere called La Lune listed in the book, but several places had similar names. I’ll start with the least plausible first:

La Laune 

This derives from an Occitan word, lòna which means a marsh or lagoon. Since our area is notorious for its dryness and lack of streams, this seems unlikely. A lake does develop in the valley below our house if it rains hard in the winter and that might just have been enough to earn it the name. I am not convinced. The only other places bearing the name La Laune are on the edge of the Camargue. So I have rejected that thesis.


This name evolved from the Latin alodis/allodium through the Occitan alod to the French les alleux. It means a property, often inherited, held in the owner’s own right, which was free of seigneurial taxes and feudal obligations. In France before the Revolution the title was rare and was limited almost exclusively to ecclesiastical properties.  

It’s quite possible that these lands once belonged to the church. In fact, I had heard second-hand that the Avignon Popes used to come here as a summer retreat. No one has ever supplied any evidence for this. However, if it is the case, an ‘n’ has been added by mistake or because it was easier to say.

This was not uncommon. The River Lot, for example, was called l’Olt until a stroke of the pen changed it. This was either a mistake or an arbitrary decision by someone who thought Lot sounded better. Some of the villages along the river still bear the suffix –d’Olt.

So the jury’s out on this one.


Both of these derive from a Roman name, either Lupinellus or Lunus. Lüe in particular is the Occitan rendering of Luna(villa), the property of Lunus. A Roman called Lunus might have settled here and given his name to the place. The main road that runs a couple of kilometres from us is so straight that it is clearly of Roman origin. Again, an ‘n’ might have been added later on because it was easier to say and write.

I am a bit sceptical about this. As far as I know, no Roman remains have ever been unearthed in the immediate area. And I always thought the Romans built their villas in the plains rather than in the hills, although they weren’t far away at Saint-Antonin-Noble Val, for example.

So there we are. Either the name designated the area’s legal status or it indicated that someone called Lunus lived here a long time ago. One day, I intend to visit the archives at Montauban to see if I can dig anything up. Until then, I have a couple of theories to work with.

Copyright © 2011 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

I'd love to know your thoughts. Please leave a comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.