About A Name: Marcel

August 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Marion Cotillard (July 2009) 1

Actress Marion Cotillard and her actor-director beau Guillaume Canet (as a celebrity couple, they rival the popularity of Brangelina in their native France) welcomed their first child, son Marcel on May 19th in Paris. She recently explained the choice in the latest issue of French Elle:

“Actually, this name comes from a lot of different roots, because I have several Marcels in my family. The first time that I thought about calling my son Marcel, if one day I had a son, was years ago. I was on a boat, in Japan with some friends, and they told me that they called their son Marcel, and I found it sublime.”

Incidentally, Cotillard won the Academy Award in 2008 for portraying Edith Piaf in the French film La vie en rose. Tragic chanteuse Piaf’s greatest love was world champion French boxer Marcellin “Marcel” Cerdan, who died in a plane crash in 1949.

The name Marcel is well known, but not exceptionally trendy, in French and English-speaking countries, including bilingual Canada (where it cracked the Top 100 just once in 2004), and variations have picked up speed within Spanish and Italian cultures as Marcelo or Marcellino/Marciano. Just last year, Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody welcomed son Marcello Daniel. In the United States, the name Marcel ranked only 837th in 2010, but has floated around the bottom half of the Top 1000 since 1880 – peaking at 551 in 1920.

Notable Belgian actress Hilde De Baerdemaeker and Belgian TV presenter Mathias Coppens both welcomed sons named Marcel (he in ’09, she in 2010). Rapper/producer Dr. Dre, Scottish model Stella Tennant, and Oscar-nominated American actress Taraji P. Henson all welcomed boys named Marcel in the ’90s. Expat American novelist Paul Theroux, whose children were born and raised in Britain, named his eldest son Marcel Raymond in 1968. The 14th president of the French republic, Paul Doumer, had eight children – his fourth was Marcel, born in 1886.

The name Marcel, truly, has existed for thousands of years. The name is Latin for “little warrior,” a derivative of the Romanesque Marcellus. Marcellus derives from Marcus, another well-used name from the Roman Empire that has more than survived to today, which is Latin for “dedicated to Mars,” the Roman god of war. (Initially, he was the Roman god of fertility until his legend was wrapped into that of Ares, the god of war in Greek mythology.) Oscar-winning Canadian-American actor Walter Huston’s eldest son was born John Marcellus Huston in 1906 – he went on to become one of the most acclaimed American filmmakers of the 20th Century, and was himself father to Oscar-winning actress Angelica.

Renowned French mime, Marcel Marceau, created a stage name that combined two names that were variant forms of itself – Marceau is another French derivative of Marcellus. Italian 20th Century actor Marcello Mastroianni gained worldwide fame starring opposite Anita Ekberg in Fellini’s La dolce vita in 1960. French 20th Century writer Marcel Proust delivered the 1.5 million-word novel in seven volumes, À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), over 14 years – one of the longest novels in world literature.

Marcelle and Marcela are both feminine forms of the name, relatively common in Mediterranean countries, though still not entirely trendy.

Though Marcel is known and used in English-speaking countries, it’s a name which to some leaves something to be desired in the American pronunciation. The name sounds simply lovely when pronounced with full French inflection, as by Cotillard in her Oscar-winning role, but with the hard ‘r’ and long ‘l’ of the Americanized version, the beauty of the name is somewhat lost. Instead, the name’s variations sound more attractive.

Some will also remember Marcel as the name of Ross Geller’s pet cappuchin monkey on Friends. Marcel stayed with Ross in New York City until he started humping everything in sight. Marcel was sent to the San Diego Zoo, where he then was adopted by a trainer who made the monkey a movie star! The association of a fictional humping monkey with your child isn’t a popular one.

Marcel and all it’s various forms also come with a few nicknames for your child – Marc for boys, Marcie for girls – or maybe Markie? Cutesy and imagined on infant or toddler boys only, actress Markie Post starred in the 1980 comedy TV show, Night Court. Born Marjorie, the actresses older brother took to calling her Markie when he couldn’t pronounce her real name as a child – and it stuck.

Italian forms of the name Marcel aren’t popular in North America. Neither Marcellino or Marciano are in the US Top 1000, maybe because or in spite of fictional boxing hero Rocky Marciano, portrayed by Sylvester Stallone.

My advice? With this name, you’ll either like it, or you won’t – most of those that don’t, really won’t like it. If you live in a French-speaking part of the world, the name will fit right in, so go for it! If your heritage is deeply connected to one of the variant forms of the name, it will also make perfect sense. But you can’t play loose with this name, so really consider it before you use it – did you know it’s also the name of the villain on popular anime show Yu-Gi-Oh?


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