Beyond Words - Language Blog

Etymology of NOËL

Another term signifying the holiday season, Noël comes to us from the Latin verb nasci, meaning “to be born.”

In the book of Ecclesiastes, the birth of Jesus is called natalis. A variation of this word, nael, made its way into Old French as a reference to the Christmas season and later into Middle English as nowel.


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  3. In Book First, Chapter 5 of Victor Hugo’s “Hunchback” the crowd lets out several “Noel” shouts, and this on January 6th. Why were they shouting “Merry Christmas?”

    The lack of any labio-dentals or sibilants in Noel makes it a difficult stretch to derive it from NATUS or NASCI.

    Are we, who are chronologically and linguistically far separated from Hugo’s scholarship, grasping at straws to link the roots of the word with its present meaning?

    I don’t know a different root from which to derive the word, but I’m wondering if better scholars could look at it again with Hugo’s usage in mind.

  4. I have to point out Maria Khodorkovsky’s error regarding Ecclesiates. It is an ‘Old Testament’ book and therefore predates Christianity be several centuries. I think she meant Ecclesiasticus – part of the Apochrypha.
    As for the derivation of Noel, it is might be a contraction from Hebrew; ‘nolad El’ meaning ‘God (is) born’.

    • They’re shouting Merry Christmas on 6 January because it is the twelfth day of Christmas, the feast of the Epiphany.

  5. I just came across this word as what the French chanted when a King was crowned at coronation (and in particular Charles VII) can anyone explain why that would be? I can only imagine it is to do with the Latin meaning ‘to be born’ – a King is born? Is this linked to the other explanations of Christmas and nouvelles? Thank you.

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