Wednesday, 10 October 2012

angelic names

My partner’s name is Gabriel. Like other English-speaking bearers of this name, he pronounces it ˈɡeɪbriəl. However not everyone he meets appears to be familiar with this name, which is not as frequently encountered nowadays as perhaps it once was. People who do not know him quite often read his written name as ˌɡæbriˈel, which is properly the pronunciation that belongs with the female version of the name, Gabrielle. Some use a compromise pronunciation ˈɡæbriel.

I don’t know how long the female version has been around, presumably first in French and now also in English (not to mention Italian Gabriella and German Gabriele).

Although angels are supposed to be genderless, the archangels Michael and Gabriel are treated in English grammar as masculine (taking ‘he’, not ‘she’ or ‘it’ as their anaphoric pronoun), and as personal names are exclusively masculine.

Nevertheless, Michael has now acquired female equivalents — Michelle and the rare Michaela, and Gabriel has likewise acquired Gabrielle. As for other archangelic names, I’ve never come across a female form of Raphael or Uriel.

Interestingly, in standard spoken French the masculine form Gabriel and the feminine form Gabrielle are homophonous, both ɡabʁiɛl; though the feminine form has a final phantom ə that can surface in singing or in regional (southern) speech.

But in English the female form is regularly stressed on the final syllable, which gets a strong vowel, and is thus distinct (usually!) from the male form, which has initial stress and a reduced vowel in the last syllable.

Compare Daniel, the prophet cast into the lions’ den. As a man’s name in English he is ˈdæniəl, and again there is now a female form ˌdæniˈel, spelt in English as Danielle, though the French form is actually Danièle (again homophonous in French with the male form, give or take a schwa).

I don’t know enough about French to know why Gabriel forms the feminine by doubling the l while Daniel does it by adding a grave accent (but compare appeler — j’appelle as against geler — je gèle). Nor do I know enough about the history of English to know why Gabriel ends up with but Daniel with æ from what was presumably the same vowel in Latin/Greek/Hebrew (for the quantity of a in these phonetic contexts, compare Abraham and germanium).

48 comments:

  1. I've met a Frenchwoman called 'Danielle' and another called 'Danièle', so I think both feminine forms exist.

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    2. A famous French actress is called Danielle Darrieux.

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  2. > angels are supposed to be genderless

    In New Testament Greek grammar, both angel and Gabriel are treated as masculine:

    καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ἄγγελος εἶπεν αὐτῷ· ἐγώ εἰμι Γαβριὴλ παρεστηκὼς ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ (Luke 1:19a)

    As regards the Old Testament, I don't know anything about Hebrew, but in the Septuagint he is ἀνὴρ Γαβριήλ (Daniel 9:21), which seems to be more explicitly masculine than mere grammatical gender.

    There is of course a recent popular image of angels as female; I don't know where it comes from.

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  3. In Spanish, "Gabriel" is pronounced [ga\brjel], the stress falling on the second (and last) syllable. Young rascals used to stress the first syllable and say [\gabrjel], at least in the region of Spain where I was brought up.
    The pronunciations [gra\bjel] or, even worse, [\grabjel] are regarded as inexcusably vulgar, and the use of the expression "el Grabiel" [el\grabjel], with an added definite article, can nowadays lead to the speaker's arrest.

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  4. I don't know much about German, but Wiktionary confirms my obvious assumption that Gabriele must be ɡabʀiˈeːlə not *ɡabˈʀiːlə (and likewise that Gabriel is three syllables). I'm aware that Dutch has dieresis symbols; clearly they would be awkward in modern German, but Wikipedia claims that "historically, the umlaut mark is far younger than the diaeresis mark" – so did German once have them?
    __
    Alan
    fə fʊl neɪm siː prəʊfaɪl

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  5. Alan

    Surely the popular perception of angels as female comes from the popular perception of artistic depictions. What to painters in the past was an absence of gender features has for some time been perceived as an absence of male features.

    There's also stereotyping. Archangels are officer class and one of the carries a sword and kills things, so they're male. Ordinary angels en masse sing like boy trebles do in choirs. Individually, they protect and comfort people like nurses do.

    Historically, this has developed partly because we've lost engagement with Biblical angels, and partly because we've lost grammatical gender. When I worked in Poland where they have more traditional religious sensibilities and grammatical gender, I was asked about this incomprehensible use of she for an angel.

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    1. Back to Spanish:´"ángel" is grammatically masculine, and as a proper noun "Ángel" is used exclusively for males, but we say "Esa niña es un ángel" ("That girl is an angel"), to refer to a very kind, preferably beautiful, female.

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    2. Emilio

      By the same token, we can say in English That boy is a little angel! It's not impossible to call a grown man an angel, but it is unusual. However, speakers of all ages, both sexes and all genders can say I'm no angel.

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    3. David

      Now that you mention it, I think it could be more or less the same in Spanish - it would be perfect to say "Ese niño es un angelito".
      However, in a corny old fashioned (or jocular) way, only a woman would be addressed by his lover as "ángel mío" (= "my angel").

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    4. ... only a woman would be addressed by \HER lover as ...

      (Phew!)

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    5. In AmE at least, angel applied to a man refers to his kindness and generosity, rather than his appearance or mannerisms. By extension it is used as a technical term for theatrical investors (and more recently to private investors in startup companies), perhaps because the likelihood of profit is so small.

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  6. I'm confused by the use of /iə/ in today's transcriptions of Daniel and Gabriel. Is this akin to the use of [i‿ə] in LPD, or is there a marginal dipthong /iə/ that is different from both NEAR and FLEECE + ə?

    Geoff Lindsey has said that the phoneme /ɪə/ is dying out. This might explain why I struggle to get my head around it. In addition, I suspect that some older phonetic transcriptions have underestimated the use of i:ə for NEAR and played it safe in using ɪə.

    Ed Aveyard

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    1. As in LPD, and as always in this blog, = weak i plus ə. Nothing to do with the allegedly disappearing NEAR vowel. I'd better do a posting about windier and "wynn-deer" sometime.

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    2. Thanks for the response, John. I was confused because neither Daniel nor Gabriel has iə in LPD.

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  7. Spanish has Rafaela, a woman's name, alongside Rafael, a man's name. Uriela, though, seems to be just a pop duo consisting of Uri and Daniela.

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    1. English has Raphaella, see e.g. the first Google hit. But I guess the reason John has never come across it is due to a generational gap.

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  8. I was surprised to see ˈdæniəl for Daniel in any case. I would have thought the usual pronunciation was ˈdænjəl, making it two syllables as against Gabriel's three. Maybe the yod explains the difference in vowel length?

    Looking at on-line Bible resources, incidentally, it looks like the vowel-pointing for the two names is different: Daniel has  ָ whereas Gabriel has  ַ . Even the -iel bit is different: יֵּאל for Daniel and יאֵל for Gabriel.

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    1. Yes, I MUST do a blog posting on this. Here we have a BrE-AmE difference, as in Virginia and lenient. Perhaps this Friday.

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    2. And similarly "Danielle" in AmE is exclusively disyllabic /dænˈjel/.

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    3. As the American poet Vachel Lindsay has it, "King Darius said to the lions, 'Bite Daniel. Bite Daniel. Bite him. Bite him. Bite him." Lindsay combined an extraordinary sense of rhythm with an extraordinary lack of tact.

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    4. Colour me shocked too. I thought it was ˈdænjəl as well.

      Looking forward to i, which I thought stood for ɪ, i and , but obviously it does not, and stands only for the first two because some words with it have the explicit that follows it.

      I also don't believe ever stands for the centering diphthong ɪə.

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    5. Never heard ˈdæniəl, growing up singing in the local Anglican church choir in the English midlands. Only ˈdænjəl.

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    6. Regarding the vowel-pointing on Daniel, this concordance entry claims there are two versions, with identical consonants: דָנִיאֵל, (dā·nî·’êl), used in the book of Ezekiel, and דָנִיֵאל (dā·nî·yêl), used elsewhere (ignoring the other marks). As I don't know Hebrew, can someone please say if these two versions imply any difference in pronunciation, that might have been preserved in oral tradition during the centuries before the vowels were first written down? Or if not, then what would be the basis for singling out the occurrences in Ezekiel for different vowel-pointing?

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    7. Contrary to popular belief today, the massoretic system doesn't know vowel length. iye versus i'e is trickier, but they're commonly regarded not to be identical.

      Anyway, how a name appears in an English accent today depends on when it had been taken over and from which language, and then, what later influences were there. All trivial and not different from other words, I know, but in this case one should keep in mind that some names might have come from, say, 3rd ct BCE Hebrew via Greek and Latin, and others from the massoretes tradition a millenium or more later, as understood by English scholars yet 500 years later.

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  9. "Rafaella" is also a women's clothing label -- a brand widely distributed in the US -- so I wouldn't be surprised to find the name showing up on some actual girls in this country.

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    1. Not to mention Raffaella Carrà, widely known within and well outside Italy.

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  10. CEPD has ˈdænjəl (rhyming with 'spaniel')

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    1. ... and JW's LPD. OK, it has ˈdæn jəl.

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    2. ... whereas Nathaniel is nə ˈθæn i‿əl.

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  11. In Spanish (at least in Argentina), Micaela is a pretty common name. Michael is Miguel, although some parents are now naming their kids "Micael".

    There's Raffaella in Italian and Rafaela in Spanish.

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    1. Hi, love!
      I've never heard Micaela here in Spain. Another rare name is Gabriela, but I understand this is also pretty common in Argentina (Remember Ms Sabatini?).

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    2. Gosh, how stupid I am! There's Micaela Navarro, the politician (She was born in Andújar, Jaén).

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    3. I nearly forgot: since Monday 3 sept 2012, there is a rule by which “everyone who comments on postings on this blog should use their true name”- That’s why I had to kill my poor brother Beatrice!

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    4. The fiancee of Don Jose in "Carmen" is Micaëla. Of courrse it is Spanish by the way of French so it doesn't really tell us much about the real popularity of the name in the 19th-c. Spain

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    5. It's a nice name, in any case...

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    6. Yeah, I know I should post with my real name but I didn't feel like changing everything. However, if I sign with my name, who knows if it's real or not?

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    7. How rude I was! Hi, Emilio/Beatrice! :D

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    8. Dear SIL

      I know you will always tell us the truth. It could be a bit embarrassing for you, but you don't need to say "Hi, I'm Angela Merkel, formerly known as SIL" (No one would have suspected me had I not mentioned my felicitous killing of Beatrice).

      Also... it would be wonderful if you could send us a photo, as Ellen K. did -there are far too many guys here!

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    9. Sorry, I shouldn't talk so frivolously about killing.

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    10. (No one would have suspected me had I not mentioned my felicitous killing of Beatrice).

      Right…

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    11. A master of disguise, myself. (Is the previous phrase correct, I mean natural?)

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  12. As we're all merrily going off-topic with (interesting) random information, Israeli Hebrew has feminine forms of all of these names, formed by attaching the Romance -a ending, eg Rafaela, Ariela, Gabriela, Daniela, some taken straight back from other languages, some newly formed, I suppose.

    Then again, what do you expect from people who take the feminine noun brit (mila) = covenant (of circumcision), introduce a name-giving ceremony for girls and call it brita. :-)

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    1. Googling Uriela also brings about a number of Israeli reference (apart from some Swiss self-named cult leader).

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  13. I'm thinking of John's comment about the use of /eɪ/ with /æ/. I have noticed this with Bible readings involving less well known names in church, eg Laban or Baalam.

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  14. In Australia, the female "Gabrielle" is almost always stressed on the first syllable, contrary to what you say in the post.

    This is the first time I have heard a British person assert that "Gabrielle" is stressed on the final syllable, but I have heard the same from American sources.

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  15. In the Anglophone world, Gabrielle appears to date from at least the 1540's (spelled "Gabriell") if you don't account for the possibility of human error in both recording and transcribing birth records. It's hard to tell because Gabriel was often spelled "Gabriell", even "Gabrielle" at times, before the King James Bible provided established spellings for Biblical names. Could it even be that these girls were given masculine names? That's a trend that does happen from time to time.

    Either way, Gabrielle was widely considered a French name until the early 19th century, maybe the late 18th century, and was rarely used by native English speakers unless their parents were French. It wasn't a frequently-used name until the second half of the 20th century.

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