The Meaning of the Word 'Noel'

We've been singing it all season long, but what are we talking about?

Mall Santa
Photo: Karen Bleier/Getty Images

The first Noel… what did the angel say, exactly?

The classic Christmas carol has us thinking, What is the meaning of the word Noel? Thanks to our trusty friends at Merriam-Webster, we now know that it dates back as early as the 15th century. It also operates in two forms: lowercase (“noel”) and capitalized (“Noel”).

The former means “a Christmas carol,” and the latter translates to Christmas. Across the pond, you might hear French people wish each other “Joyeux Noël,” which means “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Christmas.”

According to Nameberry, the name Noel “has been given to both boys and girls on that holiday since the Middle Ages. For girls, it’s often spelled, Noelle.” Other nicknames and variations for girls named Noel are Noele, Noeline, Nowell, Noela, Noell, Noella, Noelene, Noelene, Noeleen, and Noelani.

For boys, Noel ranks 380th in the U.S., but is in the top 100 in Germany, Sweden, and Finland, according to Nameberry. And in Latin America, Santa Claus is often referred to as “Papai Noel,” or "Father Christmas."

Joyeux Noël has made its way into popular culture, particularly with the release of the 2006 film starring Diane Kruger. Not to mention, everyone from NSYNC to Whitney Houston has recorded their own unique rendition of the song, “The First Noel.”

Perhaps our favorite iteration of the word in a delicious seasonal treat, the Bûche de Noël. To craft a decadent Yule log dessert of your own, see our recipe here.

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