Finally, something the British and French agree on

Where the euro struggles, another trend is unifying Europe: It's all in the name Lucas, or Luke ... or Lukas

It has become something of a habit among European officials to grumble that European citizens are distressingly slow to respond to their governments' efforts to transform the continent into a unified player on the world stage.

But a curious piece of evidence has just surfaced, suggesting that ordinary Europeans have more in common with one another - and in an especially intimate corner of their lives - than their leaders give them credit for.

It has to do with the names people give their children, and the discovery that for the first time, fashions in this field are transcending national borders.

From one end of the continent to the other, a record number of boys are being christened Lucas.

At least, that is what they are called in France, where Lucas was the second-most popular name for baby boys last year, according to a just-published study. In Germany and Austria, where the name tops the list, they spell it Lukas. In Sweden it is climbing the charts, and in Italy the local version, Luca, is spreading fast. In England, Luke came in at No. 9.

For girls, Chloe has united England and France as surely as the channel tunnel, being the most popular name for newborns in England and the second-most popular in France, according to predictions for 2001.

Some given names, of course, remain resolutely local. You won't find many girls christened Caoimhe outside Ireland, or many boys beyond Finland's borders called Eetu. And you would be pretty safe in betting that somebody called Magnus was Norwegian.

But that sort of traditional nomenclature is under siege in Europe from a range of more international names that are leaping national boundaries as if they did not exist.

"One thing is certain: the Europe of given names is on the march," says sociologist Philippe Besnard in the new edition of "Favorite First Names," which has become an annual standard in France.

Sarah, for example (sometimes without the h), is one of the most popular girls' names in England, France, Scandinavian and German-speaking countries. Oddly, it is the only popular European girls' name that is also widespread in the United States. And one of the most widely popular boys' names in Europe - Thomas - commonly found in France, England, Holland, Norway, and Austria - is a nonstarter in America.

Strange things sometimes happen to Christian names as they travel. Ryan, for example, has hopped from Ireland to Scotland to England over the past 20 years to land in France as Rayan, or Rayane, the phonetic form. And as a fad for all things Celtic sweeps France, a remarkable number of parents are naming their boys Killian, a name that's virtually unknown in its native Ireland.

Most of the up-and-coming names in France apparently originated in the English-speaking world, carried by TV series, or the news (not that Chelsea stayed popular very long, after a brief appearance on the charts during Bill Clinton's presidency).

But they are generally taken up most enthusiastically by parents in what the book delicately calls "popular circles," meaning the lower classes. Anthony, for example, has become popular with blue-collar French families, while their bourgeois neighbors have stuck with the traditionally French Antoine.

Whether the Europeanization of first names will last, however, is not clear. Nothing is so fickle as the fashion in names, as "Favorite First Names" points out. At any one time, the 10 most popular names are given to around 30 percent of babies, research over the past century has shown. But 20 years on, all of those names have left the top 10. So if you can't stand the name Lucas, or Lukas, or Luca, or Luke, just be patient.

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