She’s an antique Irish choice that just might be ready for a comeback.
Thanks to JNE for suggesting Muriel as Baby Name of the Day.
In 1994, Australian actress Toni Collette’s breakout role was as the ABBA-obsessed, desperate-to-wed Muriel Heslop in Muriel’s Wedding. When she does land her dream guy, Muriel briefly changes her name to Mariel, an appellation she thinks better fits her new, magazine-cover-gracing image. By the movie’s end, she’s plain old Muriel Heslop again, comfortable in her own skin at last.
There is something homely about Muriel’s mur- Few given names share the first syllable. Murray isn’t exactly a crowd pleaser, either, and Myrtle remains dowdy, even as Hazel and Violet appear in kindergartens once again.
But it wasn’t so long ago that Hazel and Violet seemed like outrageous names to bestow on a daughter. Muriel’s -el ending is quite current, and her Celtic roots could boost her appeal.
Her story goes like this: Muirgheal comes from the Gaelic words muir – sea – and gheal – bright. From the Irish to the Normans to the English, the name became Muriel. She was in use during the Middle Ages, but faded, only to be revived during the nineteenth century. Dinah Craike’s John Halifax, Gentleman, a popular tale of an orphaned boy who makes good, used the name Muriel for John’s deceased mother. Film adaptations – the first in 1915 – followed.
There are a handful of other possible origins for Muriel. It’s a Spanish place name. In Christian angelology, Muriel is the – masculine – angel associated with June. Arabic and Hebrew roots are also sometimes listed, and might relate to myrrh. The princess Myrrha appears in Greek mythology as the mother of Adonis.
If not the quirky Toni Collette film, Muriel might bring to mind another literary reference:
- Twentieth century poet and activist Muriel Rukeyser;
- Scottish novelist Muriel Spark, best known for her 1961 The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie;
- Geena Davis won an Oscar as Muriel in the 1988 film adaptation of Anne Tyler’s 1985 novel The Accidental Tourist.
Muriel peaked at #112 in the US back in 1922, but hasn’t ranked since the 1960s. In France, Muriel and Murielle were big in the 1960s. Meriel, Meryl and Merrill are all valid variants from the original Gaelic, none often heard. The unrelated Mariel – it’s a diminutive form of Mary – has been more popular in recent years, in part due to Oscar-nominated actress Mariel Hemingway. But Mariel, too, has faded since the 1990s.
Muriel has made two small screen appearances in recent years. She’s a less-than-diligent housekeeper on The Disney Channel’s Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Before that, Muriel was the middle name of Friends’ Chandler Bing.
But before we dismiss Muriel, remember the 100-year rule. Conventional wisdom tells us that it takes around a century for a name to return to fashion. All the girls called Alice, Emma, Lily, Ruby and Grace today would’ve been equally at home in 1910. Right now, plenty of 1920s favorites seem impossibly musty.
Could we be just a mere decade away from finding Doris, Ruth and Muriel the most fashionable of choices?