The Mary Month of May

For the arrival of May, official month of the Virgin Mary, we revisit her classic name and some of its many variations.

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.

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—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.

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 is 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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24 Responses to “The Mary Month of May”

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ycw Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 5:53 am

In Spanish speaking countries, there are a ton more names that honor Mary–Anunciacion, Anamaria, Consuelo, Carmen, Carmela, Cruz, Concepcion, Dolores, Jesusa, Luz, Mercedes, Maricarmen, Mariela, Mariana, Maritza, Paz…

There are also many combo names in English, too:
Marybeth, Annmarie/Maryanne, Marielle, Rosemary…

Abby Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 6:23 am

My favorite isn’t on this list – Mariel! But since my last name ends in -el, it will never be an option.

I do LOVE Maren. So tailored, but still feminine.

Lola Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 7:43 am

May’s a family name for me, My Grandmother’s older sister. I also love Marian & Polly. Marisol is another one I love, so pretty and exotic feeling.

Amanda Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 8:42 am

I disagree that Mary is reasy for retirement. With so many kre8tyv names running around the playgound, Mary seems surprising and fresh on a sweet little girl. I hope to use it some day!

ElsieK Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 8:45 am

I love Marisol, such a great name and it has a such a cute meaning for a spring or summer baby.
The Italian name Carmelina is connected to Mary as well.

mermuse Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 9:09 am

I think I really like Mary the best out of all of these. It is a lovely name that could be fresh again.

ycw Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 9:43 am

Mary, Mara, and Marie are among my favorites, too.

JenniferMariska Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 10:05 am

My grandmother is Mary Ellen, my favourite aunt is Marilyn. If I pass my middle (Mariska) on as a first to a daughter, she will probably answer to Mary most of the time. I find it incredibly fresh!

Miriam Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 10:10 am

I’m sure everyone can guess which version of Mary is my favoriteI I like Maren, too. I guess serious-sounding names appeal to me more than frilly ones.

Other Mary forms I like are the Russian Masha (love the diminuitive form Mashenka!) and the Irish Moira.

Danni Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 10:44 am

I agree with some pp’s that Mary IS NOT ready for retirement. I go to university with several women in their early 20s named Mary, and these lively ladies have made me reconsider their shared name. I think Mary is classic but still chic and sophisticated. Perhaps it’s not a name I would use, but I would melt if I met a baby Mary!

SadieSadie Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 11:50 am

I love Miriam and the British nn Mim the best but I do live Moira, Mae and the original Mary as well.

Other Carolyn Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I bet Madonna would be really popular right now were it not for the pop star. It would fit right in with the Ma-kaylas and Ma-kenzies, and probably honour not a few new grans with the “Donna” bit.

Marisol sounds like a cleaning agent to me though. I like Manon the best. I’d give Mary a couple more decades off before expecting a fully fledged resurgence, though, since most of the Marys I know are 70-80 year olds (with the sole exception of one 21 year old I knew at school).

spotlightstarlit Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 12:39 pm

While others are busy disagreeing with the classic, warm and wonderful Mary I’m going to grunt about Marion.

I disagree, Marion, with the O, falls into the interesting category of -o- names that are given a boost just because of that one, interesting syllable. Marion also makes it clear that the mother didn’t mean to name her daughter Marianne, I think it’s a fabulous choice, my second favorite name, in fact.

I also love Marisol from this list.

leah_9 Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 1:10 pm

I love Marietta, Marisol, Maren, and Mariska (so captivating this one is!).

Another one for you: Marlies- German combination of Maria and Lies.

auburn Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 2:58 pm

I’m glad see that others agree with me – after a short break, I feel like Mary is fresh again.


Meg Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 3:12 pm

“the somehow less charming Marion”?!


I’ve found nameberry to be pretty positive with respect to the names I’ve looked up on here and found that little dig a surprise. I think Marion is a lovely name.

Mischa Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 6:07 pm

I agree that the classic Mary needs to be taken down from the shelf and dusted off so she can shine again. I think more parents should seriously consider choosing this name for their daughters. Don’t let the religious association scare you off! A girl named Mary would be refreshing to hear in a playground of Addisons and Avas. I also love Maren, Mae, Marian and Pilar. Maisie and Mamie are wonderful nicknames too!

Mary Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 7:08 pm

My name is Mary (obviously) and I hate my name. Many people seem to be sticking up for it, but I don’t think I’ll ever love it. And I’ve had 16 years to get used to it. It has no short form and it feels like it should be one itself.

Anyway, great list!

Gingersnap Says:

May 3rd, 2011 at 11:00 pm

I love Maura, which is the Anglesized version of the Irish Maire. I also like Mara. I’ve also started to warm up to May/Mae.

My mother’s name is Mary, so I think of it as being a name of her generation (and before), but it does have a pretty sound, and I’m sure it will become popular again.

Boston Girl Says:

May 6th, 2011 at 9:51 pm

I like Marina, Marissa/Marisa and, yes, Marisol. Maren is a really pretty name; I didn’t like it at first, but it grew on me. I also like Maureen and Mariska. As for Mary itself, it just seems to me like the classic generic name, plain and undistinguished. I think it’s ready for a rest, after four-plus centuries of active use.

Marita Says:

May 7th, 2011 at 9:02 pm

I’ve always loved my name, which some baby name books call a Spanish form of Marita. The only Maritas I’ve met or have heard of have been Scandinavian, where there it is a form of Margaret. Either way, I like it!

I also love Manon and Maren.

Martha Says:

July 16th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

My new daughter was born on the day this article was written and we desperately wanted to use the name Mary. In the end, I couldn’t do it because it really doesn’t work with our last name and I couldn’t get past that issue. We ended up using Annemarie, which uses a form of Mary and I am happy with the overall choice, but still pining away for the classic, strong, meaningful, pretty name Mary.

Angela Says:

July 29th, 2011 at 2:05 pm

My youngest daughter is Mary-Francis. She was named after grandparents and great grandparents. We call her Frankie. The proper name and what you call your child can be different and unique for your family!

sarahmezz Says:

April 30th, 2013 at 5:20 am

Who is the tennis star named Marina? I can think of Maria (Sharapova) and Martina (Hingis and Navratilova), but no Marinas…

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