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.
Finally someone has my name!
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. 🙂
i was just adding to my Beloved list and found this and added it!
am i correct to pn it; meh-RAY-uh ?
Mireille feison says
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
English: miri El
ellen. light or torch. says
” 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…
I also learned of the name from the French in Action books/ movies. I always loved it but it definitely wouldn’t fare well here in Oklahoma.
Mireille Fry says
I suppose mon pere was tres gauche for naming me after Mireille Mattieu, but I love my name. It’s slightly disconcerting to read that it’s considered old-fashioned when I’m only in my early thirties. 🙂
Mireille C. Green says
I have viewed the many comments on the use of the name Mireille. I would just like to say that I have been truly blessed with this name. Although many Americans botch it up, I am very proud of my name and have no problems sharing the correct pronunciation with them. This often leads to very interesting conversation and many compliments. This name suits me just fine. My friends consider me to be a very classy, articulate, intelligent woman and I think my name exudes the same.
Mireille C. Green
Mireille feison says
I totally agree
Love the French in Action reference as it’s where I learned this name! Mireille has such a pretty sound too, but like my mother’s friend Manon… it can’t be fun having your name mispronounced all time. Manon just tells everyone to say muh-NO.
I love Manon too! I have a thing for French names though (my daughter is Juliette No
LOVED Mireille, but not her annoying little sister, Marie-Laure.
LOL! I completely forgot about Marie-Laure!
According to past statements on this site, my French-themed 1978 name is quite dated. To be honest, I find a lot of French-esqe names o sound a little old-fashioned, and not in the good way. Mireille would be difficult to wear, hard for some Americans to pronounce, and just not my speed.
On another note, Julie Chen and Leslie Moonves had a baby boy, Charlie, this morning. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/09/24/earlyshow/main5336731.shtml Sarbaby news! Love it. 🙂
blissfully caffeinated says
I think Mireille is so pretty!
My SO’s sister is named this. Its a nice enough name, but it is considered dated in French speaking countries. I think it has a great history.
While it is pretty, I think that the pronunciation issue might be a problem, as Janelle said. I do not speak French, but am a language/linguistics person, and yet, I was not certain as to how to say the name at first glance… Once you explain it, it is simple and there’d be no issues, but any uninitiated people might mispronounce it. It’s not the end of the world (it seems my kid faces this issue in the future), but it is a little annoying unless you are super-patient. And let’s face it, regardless of our demeanor as adults, there are very few patient little kids! Still, I’d guess if you lived somewhere, say, in the vicinity of Quebec or something, it would be much less of an issue.
Mireille is lovely, but I doubt I’d use it, mainly because I’m afraid the beautiful pronunciation would get mangled to Mi-REL. While those who can parle le fran
I will add, though, that Mira would be a sweet nn for a little Mireille.