Giselle combines French style with Disney princess bona fides – and yet, it remains just a little outside of the mainstream.
Thanks to Danielle for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
The name sounds French – and it is! But it comes from Germanic roots, specifically the word gisil – pledge.
That sounds like modern virtue names, in some ways. After all, Promise recently debuted in the US Top 1000. But it probably refers to the medieval practice of sending well-born children to be raised at a foreign court for political reasons.
Modern German gives us Gisela with a hard G, like geese – gee SA lah.
Various forms appear in the historical record:
- She’s often considered more legend than fact, but some accounts say that the Viking ruler Rollo – who became the first Duke of Normandy – married a daughter of King Charles III of West Francia. Accounts put the marriage of Rollo and Gisela sometime after the year 911. When History’s Vikings told her story, they called her Gisla.
- King Conrad I of Burgundy also welcomed a daughter by the name, sometime around the year 955.
- That Princess Gisela married the Duke of Bavaria and named her daughter Gisela, too; that daughter married and became Queen of Hungary in 995.
So the name became known across Europe. The French typically spell it Gisèle, and pronounce it with a soft g.
The name owes its popularity – and the double L spelling – to Adolphe Adam. He composted the 1841 ballet Giselle based on Heinrich Heine poem from only a few years earlier.
The story goes like this: a young peasant girls falls for Albrecht, a nobleman disguised as a peasant. They dance and flirt; but then his deception is revealed. Not only is he the Duke of Silesia, he’s engaged. A heartbroken Giselle dances herself to death.
Then out come the Wilis. They’re young women who perish before their weddings, and they’re out for vengeance over Albrecht’s deception. They summon Giselle from her grave, and they nearly succeed in dancing Albrecht to death. But Giselle’s love remains, and it saves her would-be suitor. He lives, and she goes on to rest in peace.
Renowned Soviet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov famously danced the role of Albrecht. They even turned his performance into a 1987 movie, Dancers. The flick flopped, but didn’t hurt the name. Giselle had been gently rising from the late 1970s onward, and it continued to gain in use modestly.
The name had entered the US Top 1000 in 1983.
Identifying a single reason proves elusive. But Michelle topped the charts, even still in the early 80s. And names like Noelle and Arielle were rising fast.
But over the next two decades, the name caught on, thanks in part to:
- Brazilian supermodel Giselle Bündchen.
- It’s Beyonce’s middle name.
- All of the -ella and -elle names were in favor.
Then came Enchanted, a live action-animation match-up starring Amy Adams as a fairytale princess who finds herself in gritty New York City. There’s still a prince, and a happily ever after. And Patrick Dempsey. The movie debuted in 2007.
Giselle by the Numbers
Enchanted pushed the name to peak at #134 in 2007 and 2009. It’s fallen slightly ever since, standing at #300 as of 2018.
Despite the supermodel, Gisele ranked in the US for just a few brief years in the 1950s. Gisela has never appeared on the charts.
But that might be a good thing. If you’re after a name broadly familiar, but a little bit different still, Giselle hits all the marks.
What do you think of Giselle?
Originally published on October 3, 2011, this post was revised substantially and re-published on August 17, 2019.