Did you parlez-vous français in high school? If so, today’s choice might give you flashbacks.

Thanks to Kelleita for suggesting Mireille as Name of the Day.

Starbaby Vivienne Jolie-Pitt sparked much talk of names fit for les mademoiselles. Appellations with French flair have come and gone in the US, from Blanche to Suzanne to Gabrielle.

Mireille has never caught on, perhaps because her pronunciation is tricky. Emphasis is on the second syllable – meer AY or mee RAY. To someone with no knowledge of French, Mireille could result in ma REL ee, ma RY lee or even meh REHL.

And yet, it is tempting to risk it.

The South of France once produced troubadours – the medieval performers responsible for many a cherished tale. Many spoke Provençal or Occitan.

Centuries later, Frederic Mistral was still writing in Occitan. He snagged a Nobel Prize in literature in 1904, but is best known for his epic 1859 poem Mirèio.

It’s a predictable plot. Rich girl falls for poor boy. Dad tells the poor boy to take a hike. The lovely Mirèio flees in despair. And dies.

Mistral had a hit on his hands. He translated it into French himself, transforming Mirèio to Mireille.

Here’s where it gets curious. Mistral indicated that Mireille was an elaboration of Marie. But that’s not so, and given his linguistic cred, it is unthinkable to imagine that Mistral himself didn’t have a more nuanced explanation.

In Provençal, mirar means “to admire.” Mirar traces back to the Latin mirare – to admire or to wonder – the same root that gave us the word miracle.

In any case, Mistral must’ve liked the name – he called his daughter Mireille. (No word on how her love life unfolded.)

Shortly after the poem’s publication, Charles Gounod adapted Mireille for an opera. It’s not often performed today, but even in the early 20th century, when it was in rotation (the New York Times reviewed a 1919 production) the name didn’t catch on in the US.

She’s out of vogue in France, too. Meet a Mireille today, and she was probably born in in the mid-20th century. Think of Mireille Guiliano, known for her bestselling French Women Don’t Get Fat.

Or, if you studied French, you may have seen part of Pierre Capretz’ well-known video series, French in Action. Capretz, a long-time member of Yale University’s faculty, combined a variety of techniques in his 1987 series. Much of it was simple illustrations and still photography, or Capretz himself.

But the stars of French in Action were the fictional Robert – an American exchange student – and his crush, the lovely Parisian student Mireille.

Mireille was played by Valérie Allain. When she wasn’t illustrating French grammatical concepts, some of her other roles were rather racy.

But if you can set aside your memories of the language lab, Mireille has much to recommend her. She’s fresh, French and once you explain her pronunciation, simple enough to say. If you’re heartbroken that Madeleine is so popular, Mireille could make for an appealing alternative.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Hello from a Holland. I am a Mireille too, born at Christmas Eve 1958. My parents named me Mireille after a daughter of dear friends, who had died in infancy. I only learned this when I was older and have long been searching for the meaning of my name. According to my twin sister (called Esther), her name meant ‘star’ and ‘white lily in the field’, and my name meant ‘shrivelled black berry’. Children can be cruel, even twin sisters… While studying musicology, I discovered another dimension to my name, a meaning which resides in music, poetry and history. Troubadours. Mirror, miroir, seeing. To admire. And for whomever the name Mireille is too long and complicated to pronouce: ‘mir’ means peace in Russian. So whenever someone cannot pronouce my name, I have a whole bunch of alternatives at the ready and pick one according to the situation and context. Our name is a mirror. 🙂

  2. i was just adding to my Beloved list and found this and added it!

    am i correct to pn it; meh-RAY-uh ?

  3. Thank you for the further explanation onmy name. You have no Idea on how horrible it’s been having people to say my name right. Ugh but it’s all good. I love it! It’s on only written pretty but it sounds amazing . Here are further pronunciations
    Spanish: meeRel
    English: miri El

  4. ” Me ray yah, I just met a girl named Me ray yah and suddenly that name will never be the same to me…” sorry, what’s the problem? The most Beautiful name in the world for the Most BEAUTIFUL Woman in the world. Who’s beauty truly shines from within, and in everything she does.Mireille MATHIEU. (Mah-tur). Truly someone to be admired, amazed and wondered at (yes, also classy, articulate and extremely intelligent) on her 46 year international, 125illion rec9ras sold on 9+ languages; still going strong . A Gift from God -Mathieu. Let’s see a miraculous gift from god, ill say. So articulate she’s yacht me 2 languages. Mir also means peace in Russian, that’s her as well, singing of peace and LOVE. DO YOURSELF A FAVOR, GET HAPPY. Go to YouTube for a start, tens of thousands of videos, and loving fans making more everyday…