The dish has spread across Europe and the world. Both 'crème caramel' and 'flan' are French names, but have come to have different meanings in different regions. In Spanish-speaking countries and in North America, 'flan' refers to crème caramel; this was originally a Spanish usage, but the dish is now best-known in the United States in a Latin American context. Elsewhere, including in France, 'flan' usually means a custard tart, often with a fruit topping. In Europe and many Commonwealth countries, the dish is generally known as crème caramel.
Food historian Alan Davidson remarks,
Packaged crème caramel is ubiquitous in Japanese convenience stores under the name , or "custard pudding". Often, an entire shelf in a Lawson or 7-Eleven is dedicated to over a dozen brands and varieties. In Argentina, Uruguay and some neighbouring countries, crème caramel is usually eaten with dulce de leche. Crème caramel is also common in Vietnam. In the Philippines it is served as Leche Flan, a heavier version of the Spanish flan, and is a staple in all celebratory feasts.
The Modern English word 'flan' and the earlier 'flawn' come from French flan, from Old French flaon, in turn from Medieval Latin fladonem, derived from the Old High German flado, a sort of flat cake, probably from an Indo-European root for 'flat' or 'broad'. The Modern Dutch word fla/flade 'pancake' has the same origin.