Thursday, June 28, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Giselle

Hello, readers!

I'm bringing back my Throwback Thursdays series this week with names from Giselle. 177 years ago today, the romantic ballet premiered in Paris and was instantly successful, prompting dozens of revivals across multiple continents. In addition to contributing the art world, Giselle is also chock full of names that haven't quite yet caught on in the US - let's take a look!

Carlotta Grisi as Giselle, 1841

Though it sounds like a member of the Isabelle-Gabrielle-Annabel group, Giselle actually comes from the German gisil, or "pledge." According to Behind the Name, the word may have originally referred to "a child given as a pledge to a foreign court." While the French form, Gisèle, has been in use since the Middle Ages, the name didn't garner attention from English speakers until the debut of the ballet. Today, Giselle is more likely to be linked to supermodel Bundchen or Amy Adams' character in Enchanted, but the tragic heroine of the ballet is inspiring in her own right.

One part of the ballet's love triangle is Hilarion, whose passion for our heroine takes a dark turn upon her death. The name is derived from Greek, and means "cheerful" - and bound to be related to "hilarity" in modern English usage. It's an unexpected choice, but I think it could work under the right circumstances - try the mid-century nicknames Hal or Larry, or something more contemporary, like Rio or Rion.

The evil queen of the story, Myrtha leads a group of female spirits called the Wilis, exclusively formed of maidens who have been betrayed by men. The name is an uncommon form of Myrtle, a plant which has long been associated with feminine goddesses Aphrodite and Demeter. While the English form seems unable to be revived, the Spanish Mirta remains quite pretty and usable.

One of the librettists of Giselle, Théophile Gautier was a prolific writer in nineteenth-century France, creating volumes of poetry, plays, and art criticism. The name comes from the Greek Theophilus, meaning "friend of God," but in French is pronounced "Tay-oh-feel." This could work as a long form route to the nickname Theo, if Theodore isn't your style.

The other librettist for Giselle was Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges (quite a mouthful), a French author known for dozens of operas and plays. The French form of Julius, Jules has long been a nickname for a number of masculine and feminine English names - Julian, Julie, etc. With short forms back in fashion - think Charlie, Jack, or Leo - Jules might be ripe for a return.

The role of Giselle was created in part for the ballerina Carlotta Grisi, an Italian dancer who often worked with Giselle choreographer Jules Perrot (another Jules!) (Her birth name was Caronna Adela Giuseppina Maria Grisi, and her two daughters were named Marie-Julie and Leontine, for any fans of Italian and French names). The name Carlotta is a form of Charlotte, but with a little extra attitude - and potential for nicknames! Carlotta hasn't been used often in the United States, and could appeal to anyone looking to honor a familial Carl or Carly.

Which name is your favorite? Tell me in the comments!

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