She’s a French name with a Disney princess tie – and yet, she’s not as popular as that implies.
Thanks to Danielle for suggesting Giselle as our Baby Name of the Day.
Giselle is the kind of name American parents have embraced in recent years:
- She’s a French name, a perpetually stylish category for our daughters, but one on fire after the birth of the Jolie-Pitts’ youngest daughter, Vivienne;
- The name was used for Amy Adams’ princess in modern day New York in Disney’s enchanting flick Enchanted;
- Her -elle ending places her in the company of Gabrielle and Isabella;
- Her soft G is also attracting attention with names like Genevieve and Gianna.
Giselle peaked at #134 in 2009, then fell slightly to #147 last year. That’s not exactly obscurity, but she’s probably not the next Stella.
Her roots are German. Gisela is in use in modern Germany, but with a hard G, like geese – gee SA lah.
The name comes from gisil – pledge. In the medieval era, when well-born children were sometimes sent to be raised at a foreign court for political reasons, Giselle might have literally been a pledge. Today the meaning appeals for other reasons.
The name appears in use among the Franks, as early as the 600s:
- Gisele married King Dagobert II, King of Frankish Austrasia, in the 7th century. Gisele’s mom was Visigoth princess Gizlica. This might mark the name’s entrance into French;
- King Charles III gave the name to a daughter in the early 10th century. She married the Viking Rollo. His descendants would become the Dukes of Normandy. (As an aside, Rollo had daughters called Kadlin, Gerletta, and Crispina, and a son named Gerloc.)
- Princess Gisela of Burgundy married the Duke of Bavaria;
- Their daughter married the King of Hungary and became Queen Gisela in 995.
In French she’s typically Gisèle, but the name was uncommon when Adolphe Adam composed his 1841 ballet Giselle, based on a Heinrich Heine poem. Peasant girl falls for nobleman disguised as peasant boy; they dance; she dies, not from the dancing but from a weak heart. Sad, right?
Then out come the wilis, vengeful girl spirits who punish men who do wrong. Despite the nobleman’s deception – not only did he hide his identity, but he was engaged to someone else – Giselle rises from her grave and dances off the spirits. Giselle rests in peace; the nobleman, we assume, marries his intended bride and counts his lucky stars.
Mikhail Baryshnikov was famous for dancing the role of the nobleman, Albrecht. He made a movie in the 1980s about the ballet, but it was a flop.
Baryshnikov’s flick came a few years after Giselle first entered the US Top 1000 in 1983. Perhaps parents noticed her thanks to a CBC production of the ballet. Or maybe it was the 1980 Brazilian movie of the same name, even though the racy plot was about a Lolita-esque character.
The name gained into the 1990s, fueled in part by the success of Brazilian supermodel Giselle Bündchen. It is the middle name of Beyonce Knowles. And 2007’s Enchanted didn’t hurt.
Today, Giselle seems to have plateaued, and that could make her the perfect choice for parents seeking something vaguely French, with deep roots and a good story, but still familiar in the English-speaking world.