The Origin of the Word ‘Huguenot’

Nobody is exactly sure what the origin of the word ‘Huguenot’ is. One thing is agreed upon, however – when it was first used, the term was one of derision used against those who rejected Catholicism and chose to follow a new ‘reformed’ religion in Europe.

One suggestion is that it may be derived from the French word ‘Huguon’ – meaning ‘One who walks by night’ – This being a reference to the fact that Huguenots were forced to meet in secret at night to avoid detection.

It may also be a combination of Flemish and German words. In the Flemish corner of France, Bible students who gathered in each other’s houses to study secretly were called ‘Huis Genooten’ – meaning ‘House mates’.

Another suggestion is that it was derived from the German word ‘Eidgenossen’ – which means ‘confederate’.

Others believe that the word was derived from the name ‘Hugues’. Hugues was a religious leader and politician in Geneva, who was a strong follower of Calvin’s teachings. He led a group called the ‘Confederate Party’, so-called because it favoured an alliance between the City-State of Geneva and the Swiss Confederation.

What is known is that some time between 1550 and 1580 – members of the Reformed Church of France came to be commonly known as ‘Huguenots’. There were about 2 million of these ‘Huguenots’ in France at that time, while there were about 16 million Catholics.

Since the Huguenot diaspora spread out across the world, winning respect for their hard work and their positive contribution to the development of all those societies in which they sought refuge – the word ‘Huguenot’ is no longer considered a term of derision. Instead it is a term with which the descendants of the original refugees are now proud to claim a connection.