To non-French speakers the notion might seem odd. In English the big blue watery thing in Western Switzerland has only one name: Lake Geneva. And in German it is der Genfersee. Well in French it is not that simple.
Lausanne’s student radio station Fréquence Banane, ran a poll on their Facebook page that was picked up by local media.
The question: should Lake Geneva be referred to as Le Léman or Lac de Genève? The response: 161,000 views and 2,700 comments. Clearly the question matters to a lot of people.
The body of water lies over France and Switzerland. The larger Swiss bit covers parts of three cantons: Geneva, Vaud and Valais.
In France it is universally referred to as Le Léman or Lac Léman. Among the Swiss naming gets complicated. Those at the thin Geneva-end of the lake have a habit of referring to it as Lac de Genève. Residents of Vaud can bring silence to a conversation if they dare to combine the words “lac” and “Genève“.
The origins of the name Léman have been lost in time. It is thought by some to have Celtic origins. Roman records show Julius Caesar referred to it as Lacus Lemanus in 58 AD. The drawing above from 1771 shows both names: Lemanus Lacus and Lac de Genève.
Fréquence Banane’s Facebook poll received a total of over 19,000 votes. The clear winner was Le Léman with 14,900 votes, versus 4,100 votes for Lac de Genève.
The statistical validity of this result could easily be attacked. It is likely to contain geographic bias because it was run unsystematically from Lausanne, a Léman heartland. In addition, Vaud, with 773,000 residents to Geneva’s 497,000, could be seen to have an unfair advantage.
Perhaps, to calm regional tensions, the name “Lake Geneva” could be dropped into French conversations in the same way as the words “weekend” and “hot dog” are.
And if borrowing from English bent too many out of shape, then perhaps “la banane“, the second half of Lausanne’s student radio station’s name, could be tried.