How’s your Latin? Or French? Or Old English?
The word “Noel” is spelled “Nowell” in Old English and “Noël” in French. The word “Nowel” (an even older spelling) appears in the 14th-century Canterbury Tales. All derive from the Latin word natalis, meaning birthday or birth. When we sing the refrain of “The First Noel,” we are cheering in celebration at the birth of Christ.
Most American sources today use “Noel,” a simplification of the French spelling, but most British sources use “Nowell.” Since many of our beloved carols and arrangements come from England, that spelling often appears in American carol books as well. No matter the spelling, it’s a joyous shout of celebration!