It’s a Dutch heritage choice, and the middle name of Iron Man’s new daughter.
Thanks to Christina for suggesting Roel as our Baby Name of the Day.
Roel: Little Dutch Boy
In the Netherlands, Roel rhymes with cool, and it started out as a short form of names like Roeland and Roelof.
Roeland is from the Germanic Roland, from hrod – famous – and land. If you know your medieval epics, you’ll recognize him as the hero of La Chanson de Roland.
Roelof comes from the word for famous, plus wolf. You’ll recognize the name as Rudolph, which brings to mind a very different creature – Santa’s red-nosed reindeer. Though it was once a popular royal name, as well as the name of Anthony Hope’s hero in his 1894 novel, The Prisoner of Zenda. Several big screen adaptations followed.
I’ve also found it listed as a surname, possibly related to the words rolle or rulle – a list, making this an occupational name for a record-keeper.
Roel: Little Downey
Robert Downey, Jr. is a household name. He’s won Golden Globes and a BAFTA; he’s been Oscar-nominated twice. He’s also famously played iconic characters from Sherlock Holmes to Iron Man. Downey is also a daring namer. Eldest son Indio was born back in 1993. With new wife Susan Levin, he has son Exton Elias and daughter Avri Roel.
The couple wasn’t dreaming Dutch. Instead, Robert and Susan crafted their daughter’s middle name from the grandparents’ names: Robert and Rosemary Downey, Sr. and Susan’s mother, Rosie, supplied the Ro-. The -el came from Susan’s father, Eliot, and Robert’s mother, Elsie.
Roel: In the US
Add it up, and you might be surprised to hear the name used in the US.
Instead, it’s been in steady, if sparing, use since the 1930s. There were 63 newborn boys named Roel in 2014 – not too shabby.
That’s not Dutch influence, either. While short names like Bram and Sem rule in the Netherlands, Roel isn’t currently among the most stylish names.
That said, Voornamelijk listed Roelien and Roelofje among the “Good Old-Fashioned” names (forgive my translation!) with the stylish ‘oo’ sound, just like Milou and Anouk.
So what explains the occasional use of the name? Between 1960 and 1975, Roel charted in the Top 1000 ten of the years.
One guess: the name seems to have caught on in the Philippines. It may be heard elsewhere in the Spanish-speaking world, too. (Spanish has a long history in the Philippines, though Filipino and English are the official languages, and many other indigenous languages are recognized.)
Popular singer Roel Cortez sang in Tagalog. I was tempted to give him credit for the uptick in the name’s use, but the dates are wrong. Roel was born in 1967, and most popular in the 1980s – his name was part of the trend, not the reason for it.
Forvo gives a pronunciation that’s midway between rule and roll in German, and the rhymes-with-cool pronunciation in Dutch.
And yet, I want to say ro ELLE when I see this name. I’m guessing that’s how the Downeys pronounce their daughter’s invented smoosh of a middle name.
Or I see the -oel and want to rhyme it with Joel.
The spelling Roehl is also seen, at least as a surname. I can’t decide if the added ‘h’ makes it easier or more confusing.
Overall, I think Roel could be a great Dutch heritage choice for parents after something different and distinctive – as long as the occasional pronunciation/spelling complication isn’t a concern.
What do you think of Roel? Is it wearable in the US? Would you automatically pronounce it like cool and rule?