Giselle: Baby Name of the Day

Giselle: Baby Name of the Day

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.

Pledge

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.

Ballet

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.

1983

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.

Giselle: Baby Name of the Day

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21 Comments

It has been my favourite name since I was young. I always wished it was my name. Naturally, I had to give it to my daughter who is 3 yrs old now. She loves it so much and her nickname Gigi is a big hit with everyone. At home I call her “Zellie” for fun. It’s so romantic, yet glamourous. I love the simple, demure style.

Actually, gazelle comes from the Arabic word ghazal/gazal. The pronunciation changed quite a bit as it traveled into Europe. And that spelling – gazelle – is, like Giselle – French in origin. But despite the similar sounds and spellings, they’re not directly related.

Still, gazelles are so very graceful and associated with beauty. If we’re naming our kids Fox and Bear, I think Giselle’s similarity to gazelle is potentially a plus!

I love Giselle. It’s one of the most graceful names in my opinion, and I like loads of names that end in -elle. It has so much charm and some frill, but is also a bit zesty so it doesn’t feel overly frilly.

I was born in 1970…im very proud of my name Giselle..as I grew older l realized it was a princess name in French.Sometime my little cousin and nephew can pronounce right and they call me Gis or Gigi….lol

I am an older Giselle, and I love my name. I have been called gazel only as a joke because I’m a klutz! Being named after a ballet didn’t help me to be more graceful! I don’t make a big deal about people mispronouncing my name, but if they want to know how to pronounce it as they do in France I like to help them out, because it really sounds pretty in French!

My brothers, sister, children and grandchild all have unique names, which we appreciate, because we’ve talked about it and we all agree that it makes us feel special.

I hope this helps,

Giselle

Beautiful, classic and underused name, thankfully 😉 Kelley, if you knew the correct pronunciation you needn’t have been terrified.

Interesting that it’s Beyonce’s middle name… I could see that being passed on to a stylish little baby…

I like Giselle. I think it’s a princessy name that’s really strong with a lot of history – definitely a winning combo. I would love to hear Giselle over another Isabelle/a. And wouldn’t sisters named Giselle and Camille be adorable? 😉

I also am a fan of the name Giselle. Yes, it is similar to Gazelle but a Gazelle is such a striking and graceful creature to me that it can’t be a bad reference. I’ve always thought that Giselle was such a soft and beautiful name and perfect for the ballet (I think I first came across Giselle in a ballet bulletin). Though I may never use it for a first name it is a great middle name option.

Giselle is a beautiful! I know one person by the name and she’s my age, so I guess it hasn’t really caught on for little girls in my neighbourhood (I can’t say the same for my own name). I’d love to meet more little Giselles. What nicknames would they go by? Gigi, Zelle, Elle, Gizzy. . .

My brother-in-law, who lives and teaches in China, was commenting on one of his student’s English names the other day. Apparently for the first little bit he had though her names was Deah, like Leah with a D, but when he wrote it down she got mad at him for misspelling it since it’s actually Deer. His comment made us talk about other deer-related names: Dorcas, Tabitha, and the gazelle-sound-alike Giselle. All rather lovely names in their own way.

Fun fact: When you teach English in China you sometimes get to give students their English names. My BIL had one student who wanted a space-related name and was dubbed Neil. Another rather buff-looking student is now being called Arnie. More to come?

I see this name around quite a bit; the French name vogue has been of great assistance, and as you say, it already sounds like so many familiar names.

I think it’s a pretty name; husband says it sounds too much like “gazelle”.