Nostradamus was born Michel Notredame (or Nostredame, the Provençal spelling) near the end of 1503 in St. Rémy de Provence in southern France. Although he would later claim that his father and grandfather were physicians, it appears more likely that they were in fact prosperous grain merchants. What is certain is that the family had recently converted from Judaism to Christianity and dropped its original name in order to remain in Catholic France.
The young Michel received his earliest education from his grandfathers, who found him a promising student. He was then able to continue his studies at two nearby cities renowned for their intellectual and cultural life, Avignon and Montpellier. Michel began secondary school at the former in 1517, where the prescribed course of study included grammar, rhetoric, logic, music, mathematics, and astronomy (which encompassed astrology as well). At the time, Avignon was under direct control of the Catholic Church; there, as in all seats of learning, classes were taught in Latin.
Michel went on to study medicine at the University of Montpellier in 1522, where once again astrology played a role alongside such subjects as anatomy and surgery. Tradition has it that he concentrated upon pharmacology and various methods of treating the plague. When he was graduated in 1525 at the age of twenty-two, he followed the custom of signaling his accomplishment by Latinizing his last name, thus adopting the form by which he is best known today.