Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 17th column, he looks at the history of the name Michelle.
Michèle and Michelle are French feminine forms of Michel, French version of “Michael.” Michael is Hebrew for “Who is like God?”, a rhetorical question implying “No one’s like God.” One of only four angels mentioned by name in the Bible, St. Michael was popular throughout medieval Europe. Occasionally girls were named after him, though in medieval England there was no separate feminine form. Listed as “Michaela” in official records, they were called “Michael” in everyday life.
Though a few French girls were named Michelle before modern times, it was very rare, not coming into regular use until 1920. Before 1940, Micheline was the more common French feminine for Michel.
“Michelle” was one of the Beatles’ greatest hits, winning the 1967 Grammy for Song of the Year. Versions were recorded by many other artists. Though Michelle would probably have soon been a Top 10 name without it, there’s no doubt the song accelerated its boom. It peaked at #2 in 1968, when 2.6% of American girls were named Michelle or Michele.