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 four hundred 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 name is 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.