May, as any Catholic schoolchild can tell you, is the official month of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Which might make Mary an appropriate name for a girl born this month, except after a 400 year run, Mary is more than ready for semi-retirement.
The good news is that you can hold onto Mary’s symbolic value by choosing one of her fresh, appealing variations. And there are literally dozens of them, formal and breezily nicknameish, ultrafemme and down-to-earth. Some of the options:
MADONNA – There’s only one Madonna – and it’s not the plaster one in the blue alcove at church. The pop star has all but taken over this formerly holy name and rebranded it with a modern in-your-face sexuality. Do you dare use it for your child? Do you want to? Maybe not yet, but with names like Elvis and Scarlett gaining widespread popularity a generation or two after the fame of their original bearers, we all might end up having grandchildren named Madonna.
MAE and MAY – A mere handful of years ago, Mae was a quintessential old-lady name, barely baby-appropriate, but today it feels as sweetly simple as a warm day in the sun. Can be a short form for any of the Mary variations and also makes a good middle name.
MAMIE – Mamie is sassier than either Mae or Maisie, though definitely in the same family. An old-fashioned nickname that’s enjoying another day in the sun, Mamie was the name of President Eisenhower’s wife and is also the nickname of Meryl Streep’s actress daughter – both mother and daughter are properly named Mary Louise.
MANON – This French diminutive of Marie is very popular in its own right there and would make a distinctive and unusual choice here, but one with some genuine underpinnings. Parents considering Manon should see the French film, Manon of the Spring.
Last week our guest blogger Elisabeth Wilborn offered a great yuletide menu of names that was both inclusive and imaginative, covering all the bases from religious to seasonal to spiritual. At the risk of being accused of overkill, I thought I’d offer a few quirkier ideas, which are tied less directly to the holiday.
One of them is to look at some first and last names that have appeared in classic Christmas movies, ranging from the vintage It’s a Wonderful Life to the more recent Elf. Some examples:
BAILEY ……..It’s a Wonderful Life
CLARENCE ..It’s a Wonderful Life
GEORGE ……It’s a Wonderful Life
VIOLET ……..It’s a Wonderful Life
ZUZU ………..It’s a Wonderful Life
Another possibility, even more of a stretch, could be various shades of the Christmas colors, red and green:
Oh, and what about Santa‘s reindeer’s names? Where did those funky names come from? It seems that the Night Before Christmas poet Clement C. Moore gave a lot of thought to his choices, picking names that imply speed, grace, power, and strength. We wouldn’t recommend Donner or Blitzen or Prancer. Comet, Cupid, Vixen–barely possible. A little more conceivable: Dasher and Dancer.
What better time than Thanksgiving to look back at the first names to arrive on our shores?
As you may remember from your third-grade history book, the first English-speaking settlement, called the Raleigh Colony, was established on the Atlantic coast in 1587, and although it didn’t survive for very long, some of its name records did. Not surprisingly, of the 99 men who settled there, 23 were named John, fifteen were Thomas, and ten were William, with a small sprinkling of Old Testament names in the mix as well.
The passenger list of the Mayflower, which set off on its transatlantic journey in 1620, had a different element, in that about half of its passengers were members of the fundamentalist Protestant sect known as Pilgrims. And although many Pilgrims were content to use Bible-sanctioned names, the more extreme of them considered such names blasphemous and so invented their own ‘virtue’ or ‘slogan’ names consisting of ordinary vocabulary words, ranging from Abstinence and Ashes to Zeal-for-the-Lord.
So while most of the 102 men, women, and children aboard the Mayflower–the future settlers of the Plymouth Colony–were named John, Mary, James, Edward, Thomas, William, Elizabeth, Susannah or Sarah, there were also among them those with such distinctive, attention-worthy names as:
MYLES (yes, Standish)
OCEANUS (born during the voyage)
When we talk about the strong popularity of biblical names these days, what we’re really talking about are Old Testament names. Looking at the popularity list, we see Jacob at #1, followed by Ethan, Joshua, Daniel, David, Joseph, Noah, Nathan, Samuel and Benjamin, while for girls, Hannah and Sarah are still in the Top 20.
Sure, thousands of babies each year are still named John and Thomas and Elizabeth, but these are seen as very conservative choices, often given to honor a family member. And then there’s poor Mary. We’ve been known to say to parents if you want a really unusual name, how about Mary?–the most widely used female name in the English-speaking world for centuries has long been in steep decline. The statistics are pretty dramatic: in 1925, more than 70,000 baby girls were christened Mary, in 1950 there were still over 65,000, while by last year the number had shrunk to less than 4,000. Similar story with John: 57,000+ in 1950 to just over 4,000 in 2007. Why? For one thing, their massive long-term popularity robbed them of any individuality, and for another, so many of today’s parents carry around elderly images of a Great-Uncle Jim or a Grandma Betty that they don’t seem fitting for a baby.
But there are other New Testament names besides the old standards. Rather than being strictly Hebrew names, as those in the New Testament, these have Greek, Roman and Aramaic elements, giving them quite a different flavor. So, moving beyond Mary, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, here are a few possibilities:
MAGDALA (place name)
And for boys: