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This is an oft-cited "unusual law", e.g. from The Sun:

IN FRANCE it is illegal to name a pig Napoleon, almost 200 years after his death.

Experts say the odd law exists because ­calling a pig after the emperor would insult a head of state.

The best explanation I found is that it was once illegal to offend the head of state. This law changed very recently (emphasis mine):

Being rude to the French president is no longer an offence after parliament amended legislation dating back to 1881 in favour of freedom of speech.

Previously any rude remark risked a fine and criminal conviction for "offending the head of state". But the change was pushed through after criticism from the European court of human rights.

However, this doesn't make much sense:

  • If the law dates back to 1881, then it didn't exist during Napoleon's reign.
  • As far as unusual laws go, calling a pig after the head of state being illegal sounds just as unusual as calling it Napoleon, so it's odd a non-existent unusual law would become more well-known than a real one along the same lines.
  • Why a pig specifically? I imagine naming other farm animals (e.g. a donkey) after the head of state would be equally (in)offensive.

Was there ever a law that would make some pig names illegal in France?

  • 38
    You could call it Napoleon Baconparts. What a missed opportunity... – Graham Jul 5 at 19:45
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    I have heard the same about Adolf and horses in Germany during the Hitler regime. – d-b Jul 6 at 16:13
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According to this article (French), there has never been such a law in French codes, but the rumor is persistent over time.

It seems that it all come from the censorship of George Orwell's Animal Farm, censored for its first publication in France in 1947; the pig originally named Napoléon was finally renamed Cesar.

In 1945, an Englishman, George Orwell, published The Animal Farm, a dystopian apologue in which farm animals revolted against men. And where a pig, allegory of Stalin, is called ... Napoleon. The first French edition of this book, by O. Pathé, dates from 1947. The publisher who agrees to publish it categorically refuses that a pig can be called Napoleon, as well as Gallimard, for the second edition; the pig Napoleon will bear the name of Caesar. It was not until the 1981 edition that the pig found its first identity. The "very old law" is actually an editor's veto, dating back to 1947.

  • 26
    I had no idea that Napoleon went by a different name for over 30 years. Very interesting find. – Wipqozn Jul 5 at 12:45
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    Only in French editions, apparently. This character was still called "Napoleon" when I read it in the early 70's in the US. – Bob Jarvis Jul 7 at 14:39

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