The Mary Month of May

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 for Mary May Baby Names:

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.

MAISIEMaisie takes Daisy and raises it one.  An insouciant, charming name, Maisie can be given on its own or can be used as a short form for any of the Mary variations – or even for Margaret.

MAMIEMamie 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.

MAREN – The Norwegian form of Mary has the emphasis on the first syllable, as opposed to Marin as in the lovely county north of San Francisco, pronounced ma-RIN.

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.

MARIANMarian 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.  Among the top 20 names a hundred years ago, Marian is actually the medieval French version of Mary.

MARIETTA – French diminutive of Marie that feels a little bit buttoned up…and a little bit naughty.  An appealing combination.

MARINE – Americans may be more familiar with Marina, name of the tennis star, but the simpler Marine, redolent of the sea, has been popular in recent years in France yet is still special here.

MARISKA – Actress Mariska Hargitay brought this Czech version of Mary to the world’s attention.

MARISOLMarissa and Marisa have been quietly but fashionably used over the past few decades, but we prefer Marisol, the more dramatic Latina version.  This name related to Stella Maris, Star of the Sea, one of the names for the Virgin Mary.

MAURYA – Irish variation that updates Maura and appears as the name of a character in literature as well as on the stage in J.M. Synge’s 1904 drama Riders to the Sea.

MINNIEMinnie 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.

PILAR – Spanish classic meaning “pillar” that honors the Virgin Mary yet feels more exotic than many of the Mary variations.  A name with an ideal combination of strength and style.

POLLYPolly, 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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34 Responses to “The Mary Month of May”

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MePregnant Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 2:10 am

THE MARY MONTH OF MAY – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry…

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 14th, 2009 at 1:16 am and is filed under French baby names, Irish names, classic names, ethnic names, girls’ names, international names, literary names, name history, religious names, vintage names ……

peach Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 2:48 am

I love Maisie, Marisol, Marian, Maren, Manon, Maurya (is it pron. the same as Maura? or Mar-ya maybe?), Mariska, Marietta although I’m not sure if any will catch on in a big way in the US — which will keep them fresh and special.

Caitlin Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 4:58 am

I believe Mercedes is also related to Mary – I think the meaning is our lady of mercies? I’ve always loved that name, though here its more associated with cars than the Virgin Mother.

Julia Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 6:41 am

I love Marisol, mainly becuase of the Sol part at the end which makes me think of sunshine 🙂

silver Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 7:18 am

I like Marietta but prefer Mariella. Never understood Mamie though.

realpraise Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 8:17 am

When I think of Marisol, I think of sunny beaches. It does mean “sea and sun.”

Jenmb Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 8:40 am

I think the name Pilar is so beautiful. Do you think it will sound strange on a non-Latino child?

JNE Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 8:59 am

Marian and Miriam are both names on my long list. I absolutely love Marisol as well. Would Virginia and Virginie also make the alternates for Mary list (or are they not modern enough)? I have known one of each (both girls went by the nickname Ginnie) and always thought both versions make pretty names.

pam Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 9:04 am

Maurya is pronounced MOR-ee-ah or (harder to say) mor-ya — I was shocked to find it wasn’t in the nameberry database so I added it. I agree, I love Pilar and think it would absolutely work on a non-Latino child. And sure, Virginia certainly qualifies. There were a surprising number of great choices here and I had to leave some really good ones out.

ZigZag Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 9:04 am

I disagree that Mary is ready for retirement. Once upon a time, yes, it was impossible to turn around without stepping on a child named Mary. But now names like Genesis and Nevaeh are more popular then the simple, classic Mary. The funny thing is: People tend to choose the popular Genesis and Nevaeh to be spiritual without (consciously) using a very popular name. And the same people avoid Mary because it is supposedly “tired” and “overdone.”

Well personally, when I met a fifteen year old Mary the other day I was surprised and pleased. When I meet yet another Nevaeh I am bored.

Bring back Mary, I say!

On the other had some of the names on this list are gorgeous. I particularly love Manon, Marisol and Pilar- which Jenmb- I do not think would be too strange on a non-Latino child. In fact my association with Pilar is my Japanese and Filipino Aunt Pilar. I think Pilar is very Catholic, but not really tied down to any particular race.

JustADad Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 9:32 am

I still love the name Mary, especially when combined with a second (often a family) name and then the person uses both names. I have known a Mary Walker, a Mary Gordon, and a Mary Madison, and they go by both names, not just Mary. But then I’m a Southerner and I think this is a distinctively Southern style.

I also think Marisol is one of the prettiest names out there, and I’ve always thought Marian had strength and beauty as a name.

JustADad Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 9:33 am

On the above, when I say second name, I meant a middle name, not a surname. Sorry for any confusion.

Diana Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 10:27 am

Don’t forget Mia. Mia is a diminutive of Mary as well! (My grandmother’s name was Mary and my daughter’s name is Mial)

pam Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 10:30 am

Yes, I love that whole upmarket Southern Mary Walker thing too, as well as the French Marie-Claude style. And I didn’t forget Mia, just had to stop somewhere! It’s a good one, though.

susan Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 10:51 am

My fave versions of Mary are Marian and Maisie.

pam Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 10:59 am

Marian and Maisie are opposite sides of the name, both very appealing! Marian definitely belongs on the underrated list.

CountryLizB Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 11:47 am

I have never met anyone named Nevaeh or Genesis, but I know 5 Marys.

To add to the list how about Marlene and Marilyn? I know a little girl named Marilyn.

Andrea Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Mary isn’t ready to go anywhere. It’s a classic and it’s now uncommon enough to sound as appealing as every other classic. It’s still No. 97 on the popularity chart. I enjoy coming across little girls named Mary.

Kelley Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 4:12 pm

This is great! My mother’s name is Mary, and I’d love to give my eventual daughter a middle name to honor her, but I hate the name Mary itself (especially as a mn, it doesn’t flow well with most combos). I lean towards Marion, as it was also my grandmother’s middle name, so I could honor 2 family members in one fell naming swoop!

Letta Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 4:20 pm

My second daughter is named Marisol, mainy so we could call her Mari, for my mother, Maril.

Pilar is absolutely gorgeous, and jenmb, my sister adopted a baby from China, and named her Pilar. It’s very versatile.

My middle name is Mae, and I’ve used it in my first daughters name, and if my second daughter hadn’t been so ridiculously sunny when she was born, she would have been named Maria.

Jill Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 6:05 pm

I really like Mariel and Marielle, but think Mary is lovely, too. 🙂

Emmy Jo Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 7:41 pm

I agree with those who said that Mary sounds refreshing on a little girl. It’s just barely in the top 100 now (the least popular it has ever been), but instead of sounding tired, it’s charming and unexpected.

Still, I like quite a few of these Mary-variants. Miriam and Marian are personal favorites. I also like the simple, spare feel of Maren and the sweetness of Maisie (but I always considered that one a short form of Margaret, not Mary).

Eva Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 10:23 pm

I love Mary! It’s so sweet. I also love her variants.

This is a great list!

Mae, Maisie, Manon, Marian, Miriam, Maren, Maria, Marisol, and Pilar are my favorites. I definitely prefer the spelling Marian to Marion. Marion doesn’t look as feminine. And it looks more old-ladyish and stuff. Maisie I would only use as a nickname. I think Manon is fabulous! She’s so exotic, but yet simple and very sophisticated

Eva Says:

May 14th, 2009 at 10:26 pm

Oh yeah, and I’m not particularly found of Mamie. It sounds like something a grandmother would be called. To me anyways. It also reminds me of a cow, for some strange reason 🙂 I guess I can see her apeal though. It’s cutesy and distinctive.

Malia Says:

May 15th, 2009 at 8:45 am

My name of “Malia” is actually Hawaiian for Mary and quite popular in Hawaii. Plus it’s the first daughter’s name. Surprised you would leave it off your list!

Diana Says:

May 15th, 2009 at 10:02 am

I live in the mid west. I always see that Mia is high on the charts, supposed to be commonly used name. Yet, I have never hardly seen any Mia’s. There are none at my daughters school, or at the xchool my sisters kids go to. I worked in a children’s hospital and I never one time saw a little girl named Mia in the computer system. And I always looked, I have an interest in names. . I worked at the hospital for 2 years. I wonder where or with who it is so popular? It certainly isn’t here. What is popular here is Maya. People often call my daughter Maya.

pam Says:

May 15th, 2009 at 10:39 am

On Malia, you’re absolutely right!!!! That was a true oversight rather than a choice, and i can’t believe I forgot it….and that no one else thought of it until now. I’ve been meaning to write about Hawaiian names and I’ll have to lead with that. Thank you.

Boston Girl Says:

May 15th, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Funny, like ZigZag and CountryLizB, I’ve never met anyone named either Genesis or Nevaeh (the former seems more masculine to me, and the latter just doesn’t look very nice, somehow); but my stepmother’s name is Mary, and I went to school with a Mary and a Mia.

I do agree with Kelley though. I’m not fond of the name Mary. It’s much more common than some might think, and it seems like a “default” choice when parents can’t agree on something else, or just don’t feel like making the effort to find a different name for their daughters. But I do like a lot of the variations: Malia, Marina, Maren in particular. And don’t forget Maureen! That’s one of my top-ten faves.

jessica Says:

May 23rd, 2009 at 12:51 am

Don’t forget Maris! It’s a Celtic variant and a bit less directly related to Mary, but very lovely, distinctive and not commonly used here.

Lisa Says:

June 3rd, 2009 at 12:30 pm

How about Mara? For years it was on your fitting in list. We named our daughter Mara and is is always getting compliments.

stephanie-elizabeth Says:

June 18th, 2009 at 12:06 pm

My grandmas name is Mary, and I had long considered naming my first daughter Mary Emilia (after my great-aunt, my grandma’s sister) or Emilia Mary…and calling her Emmy. I also like Marianna or Marina.

Lucy Says:

November 14th, 2009 at 11:51 pm

Don’t forget Maryse, an uncommon name that is a form of Mary. Its pronounced MAY-riss.

Mary Says:

February 15th, 2010 at 5:57 am

i used to hate my name (12 years of catholic school will do that to you)
but now i love it.
it’s cute and not at all popular in the “under 90” crowd.

Alexandra Says:

December 1st, 2010 at 5:23 pm

George M. Cohan said it best:

For it is Mary, Mary, plain as any name can be, but with propriety, society will say Marie, but it was Mary, Mary, long before the fashion came, and there is something there, that sounds so square, it’s a grand old name!

I named my daughter Mary – and gave much thought to it too! It was my deceased mother’s name and the name of the mother of God – and it is sweet and beautiful.

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