French Foreign Legion: Myths And Realities of Identity Change

Legionnaire of French Foreign Legion brandishing his FN Minimi machine gun
Member of the French Foreign Legion (Photo: Pinterest/FFL)

The myths about identity change in the French Foreign Legion are actual since the founding in 1831. According to that, the French Foreign Legion has become the one place of escape for those with haunted pasts. Various men with criminal records, shady business dealings, or deserters from their home country’s armies were accepted into the ranks, with no questions asked.

Stripped of their old identity and given a new one, the new legionnaires are able to begin their new life with the slate wiped clean. But, that is history, what about now?

In modern times, different rules

Legionnaires were, in the past, forced to enlist under a pseudonym (“declared identity”). This disposition exists in order to allow people who want to start their lives over to enlist, and the French Foreign Legion held the belief that it was fairer to make all new recruits use declared identities. French citizens can enlist under a declared, fictitious, foreign citizenship (generally, a francophone one, often that of Belgium, Canada, or Switzerland).

Myths And Realities of Identity Change in French Foreign Legion
Myths And Realities of Identity Change in French Foreign Legion? (Photo: XY)

The French Foreign Legion is willing to let you join up under an assumed name. However, first, you’ll have to tell them who you really are, and French police/intelligence services will do a check. If you’re wanted for something relatively minor or let’s say running away from debts, they may overlook that and let you start a brand new life, with the possibility of acquiring French citizenship at the end of your service. But if they find that you’re wanted for murder, you can expect to be arrested and extradited.

New name – only for administrative purposes

The new name is just for administrative purposes and to give the legion plausible deniability if anyone comes asking about you. Even if you take a new name (and the policy on requiring or not requiring new name changes every couple of years), you must be rectified so that you take back your real name (with a certified birth certificate from your home country with your real name) so that you can get credit for your courses and deployments and so on.

How to become member of the French Foreign Legion
How to become a member of the French Foreign Legion? (Photo: XY)

As of 20 September 2010, new recruits may enlist under their real identities or under-declared identities. Recruits who do enlist with declared identities may, after one year’s service, regularise their situations under their true identities. After serving in the Foreign Legion for three years, a legionnaire may apply for French citizenship.

He must be serving under his real name, must no longer have problems with the authorities, and must have served with “honor and fidelity”. Furthermore, a soldier who becomes injured during a battle for France can immediately apply for French citizenship under a provision known as “Français par le sang versé” (“French by spilled blood”). The new identity in the French Foreign Legion is considered as your right, but still, you are the one who chooses.

Deserters and other minor miscreants

The French Foreign Legion will still accept deserters and other minor miscreants, but it’s not as easy as it once was. New recruits are given a battery of physical, intellectual, and psychological tests before they even get any kind of training. Later on in the process, recruits are screened for “motivation” in order to weed out those who don’t have the drive to make it in the ranks.

  1. Whenever you show at the gates of any French Foreign legion office in France, you won’t be turned down…

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