English, German, Dutch, French (Noé, Noë), Spanish (Noé), Catalan (Noè): from the Biblical personal name Noach ‘Noah’, which means ‘comfort’ in Hebrew. According to the Book of Genesis, Noah, having been forewarned by God, built an ark into which he took his family and representatives of every species of animal, and so was saved from the flood that God sent to destroy the world because of human wickedness. The personal name was not common among non-Jews in the Middle Ages, but the Biblical story was an extremely popular subject for miracle plays. In many cases, therefore, the surname probably derives from a nickname referring to someone who had played the part of Noah in a miracle play or pageant, rather than from a personal name.
Dictionary of American Family Names © Patrick Hanks 2003, 2006.