Mary: The mother name and her offspring
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.
MARIA – As common as Mary in Latin cultures, Maria often gets overlooked for its own intrinsic beauty. But with the ascendance of Sophia and Olivia, it deserves the same appreciation as a womanly classic that carries considerable feminine charm and a touch of the exotic. And it feels fresher now, too, than the overworked Mariah.
MARIAN – Marian the Librarian pretty much says it all: Marian (or the somehow less charming Marion) has been stuck with a plain-faced, sensible-shoed image for too long now. But baby namers looking to move beyond resurrected classics like Violet and Clara would do well to consider Marian, a beauty in disguise—Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick chose the Marion spelling for one of their twin girls. Among the top 20 names a hundred years ago, Marian is actually the medieval French version of Mary.
MARISOL – Marissa and Marisa have been quietly but fashionably used over the past few decades, but we prefer Marisol, the more dramatic Latina version. This nameis related to Stella Maris, Star of the Sea, one of the names for the Virgin Mary.
MINNIE – Minnie is finally shaking off its mouse associations and finding new appreciation among modern parents. A relic of the days when so many girls were named Mary that its nicknames were many and varied, Minnie is another short form with energy and charm.
MIRIAM – The oldest known form of Mary, the Old Testament Miriam was the older sister of Moses and Aaron, a prophetess who led the triumphal song and dance after the crossing of the Red Sea. One Biblical choice that has not in recent years been overused.
POLLY – Polly, believe it or not, got its start as a nickname for Mary, though these days it would almost always be used on its own. A variation to consider if every other female in your family is named Mary and you want to carry on tradition, but also want to call your daughter by a name distinctly her own.
SOCORRO – Another Spanish name relating to one of the Virgin Mother’s titles, this one is rarely heard on our shores but makes a good choice for the adventurous baby namer.
There are definitely other appealing Mary variations and short forms. Tell us your favorites!
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on May 5th, 2010 at 12:59 am
I’ve really begun to love Marion. I think SJP made me take notice of it and then my love was solidified by the gorgeous Marion Cotillard. Seeing someone so elegant and vibrant really brought the name to life for me.
Charlotte Vera Said
on May 5th, 2010 at 2:14 am
I’m quite fond of the Irish Maire (pronounced something like Moya), but I’d never attempt using it given its pronunciation problems.
on May 5th, 2010 at 6:46 am
I love Marian. I don’t think it’s straight-laced at all. It makes me think of Maid Marian, first and foremost.
on May 5th, 2010 at 9:17 am
In Mariska Hagartay’s case, Mariska is not Czech, but Hungarian.
I love Mariska, Marine, Manon, Marie and even Madonna, but I only like it for its religious conotations.
on May 5th, 2010 at 9:26 am
I think just about every language has some version of Mary. When I was looking through Norwegian passenger ship records from the the 1860s or 1870s I found that my great-great grandmother was actually named Marie and had translated her first name to Mary when she came to the United States at age 13. I like Marie as a first name better than a middle. Take a look at the Wikipedia article on Mary and there’s a long list of every conceivable variant and nickname for the name, including all the Spanish names derived from titles of Mary.
on May 5th, 2010 at 9:27 am
That article can be found at:
on May 5th, 2010 at 1:03 pm
Marisol: always reads well, but leaves a lemony-fresh aftertaste. I just can’t not connect it with a cleaning spray.
Mariko: not “Mary”–doesn’t mean sea or bitter or anything, but does have that Mary Magic with a little Japanese kicker.
Also, you forgot me favorite Mary-extraction: MARILLA
Soft, sweet, never very much used, has nice literary connections.
on May 5th, 2010 at 1:05 pm
Wait, where’s MOLLY?
on May 5th, 2010 at 1:14 pm
I like Mary and I love a lot of her related names. Especially May/Mae, Manon, Pilar, Marina and Maren.
Mamie, Polly, and Socorro are ones I don’t like. Polly is ok for someone else, just definitely not for me. Socorro is unlikely to be used by anyone.
And Mamie, that is one name I will never be able to get behind. To me, it sounds like a nickname someone would call their grandma. Like Grammy or Mammy or something.
on May 5th, 2010 at 1:17 pm
oh and I love Minnie and Maisie, but I would only use those as nicknames. Maisie for Margaret and Minnie for Marina, Minerva, Madeline, or Araminta or something.
My physical therapist is named Mauria! that’s similar to Maurya. I think the -ia is more attractive than the -ya
on May 5th, 2010 at 2:27 pm
What an interesting idea!
I quite like Mary – more as a double barrel first name, though, like Mary Alice.
Mariana might be a nice modern sounding choice as well.
Maia (Basque version of Mary and the name of the Roman goddess of spring) might be another more modern sounding choice.
Theres always Rosemary, too – a combination of two popular names into one beautiful and slightly less popular choice.
Mary M Said
on May 5th, 2010 at 2:36 pm
As a Mary myself, I was keen to name my baby girl (born 4/22) something a bit more fresh and contemporary, but still somewhat classic. The name we chose was MIRA FIORI. Mira is technically named after an aunt of mine, but the “Fiori” middle name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Fiat headquarters in Turin, Italy – where my husband worked for a time and where we’d love to relocate someday. Plus I just love how it sounds. 🙂
BTW, I must have spent 100 hours on this site during the naming deliberations – def the best name site out there. Thanks for such a fantastic resource!!!
on May 5th, 2010 at 2:47 pm
Thanks so much, Mary! Mira Fiori is gorgeous!
on May 5th, 2010 at 3:09 pm
I really love Miriam, Marisol and Marian (my grandmother’s mn). Mae and Maren are both nice as well.
on May 5th, 2010 at 3:26 pm
What about Dolores?
on May 5th, 2010 at 3:42 pm
I agree with kiki about Marian. I am enchanted with many international versions of Mary from Manon to Marisol to Marika to Maura. I know babies named Molly and Miriam nn Miri. I am glad Mary is coming back in fresh forms.
Sarah Jane Said
on May 5th, 2010 at 3:48 pm
I have a Mira as well! 🙂 Mira Annabella. She is named for several M Grandmas – Marsha, Marissa, and Marilyn. I’ve also always loved Marie, Marielle, Maura, Moira and Moriah.
on May 5th, 2010 at 4:48 pm
Although I like “just Mary” best of all (I don’t agree that it’s ready for semi retirement, I think it actually sounds fresh as a baby name), I have a soft spot for all the Mary variants. Another favourite that wasn’t mentioned is Mercedes.
on May 5th, 2010 at 5:04 pm
I love Maisie – so much that I named my puppy this name! I also think Maria and Rosemary are beautiful names. Great article!
on May 5th, 2010 at 5:41 pm
Is it just me, or does Maurya bring to mind Changupta and Ashoke?
on May 5th, 2010 at 10:08 pm
My favorite Mary names are Marianne, Miriam, Maria, and Mariel. I also love Rosemary, but I don’t know if that counts…
on May 6th, 2010 at 9:16 pm
Miriam is a true favorite of mine. It’s definitely a front-runner if we ever have another girl.
I considered Mae for a middle name for DD#1 (born May 2), but ended up on something more familial.
On a side note, my name was supposed to have been Marit. I’ve often wished my parents would have gone with that rather than Toni.
on May 7th, 2010 at 11:00 am
Funny–my husband wants a double-barrelled Mary-name for our next daughter, so it’s a name on my radar.
It seems mostly my mom’s generation thinks it’s ready for retirement, and my generation tends to think it’s a fresh ready-for-resurrection option.
Maybe because we all grew up with Jennifers and Jessicas? Maybe because of the recent trends toward spiritual or vintage names?
on May 24th, 2011 at 7:48 pm
I believe Mary is a fresh vibrant name full of youth and succulent beauty.
Now Elvis… apparently until recently it was a popular one… the parents must have hated their children.
on September 16th, 2011 at 12:03 pm
I think we are missing out Maribel (Mary+Belle meaning Beautiful Mary) and also Rosmi(a sweet short form for Rosemary) and if you check this link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_(given_name) it is full of mary names……. 🙂
I am apparently searching for a mary name for my baby(if she is a girl ofcourse) and have been researching for a while now…
Is Maribel a nice choice?
on September 27th, 2013 at 8:05 am
Plan and simple “Mary” is my favourite. 🙂
on September 27th, 2013 at 8:06 am
on June 3rd, 2014 at 2:38 pm
My former boss was an English lady named Mairi (pronounced Maury). I forget if it was Irish or Scottish (probably the latter). I’m sure it’s a Mary name. Also, Rosemary certainly has to be a Mary name, as the Rose is Mary’s symbol. Therefore, we may consider “Rose” another Mary alternative, as well as Rosario (the rosary) or Rosaria (the Anglicized version). What then of Rosamund (Rose of the world–another title for Mary?), Rosalind, Rosalyn, etc.? As to Mercedes, I read somewhere that it meant a blackbird (which seems out of keeping somehow with European female names). But it might well be a Mary name as in the Spanish “Vuestra merced”–>>”Your grace”. Mercedes could therefore be taken to mean graces. Which leads us to the name Grace. Love these comments!
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