The acanthus plant became known in France through Renaissance architecture, which, starting in Italy, sought its inspiration in Classical forms. The leaves of this plant had served as a motif for the decoration of Corinthian capitals. The word acanthe, used by architects (Estienne 1549) to designate the plant, is attested in French in the 15th c. in Saint-Gelays (achante) and at the beginning of the 16th in G. Michel (acante), then more frequently from 1547 on (Martin acanthe). Other denominations of the acanthus include: branque ursine (c. 1486 according to Rolland) amongst herbalists (Martin), brance ursine (15th c. acc. Godefroy), branche ursine (1542 acc. Rolland) amongst apothicaries (Thierry 1564), patte d'ours (1544 acc. Rolland) amongst gardeners (Martin). These terms come from Latin: Class. Lat. acanthus (Pliny quoted by Estienne 1531) and mod. Lat. branca ursina (Philander acc. Du Cange, Turner 1551 acc. OED). Besides the image of a bear's paw to describe the shape of the leaves, a few texts give that of a goat's horn: Fr. branche hircine (Estienne 1552, Cotgrave 1611), mod. Lat. brancha hircina (Estienne 1536), branca hircina (Trévoux 1721), Eng. branch-hircin (1783 acc. OED).

In architectural terms, one finds especially feuille d'acanthe (Martin 1547), which later is joined by the elliptical variant acanthe, and fleur d'acanthe (Goujon 1547) -- a representation of the acanthus flower, or rosace (Goujon), adorned the four sides of the abacus surmounting the Corinthian capital, which was decorated with acanthus leaves. The same ornamental motif of the feuille d'acanthe was used also on clothing (Triomphe 1551).