Spotlight on: Martha

Martha can be the polished, sophisticated business woman. Martha can be the girl next door. If you’re looking for a cute nickname there’s Marty, but Martha is great on its own.

Martha has much credibility. The biblical name also happens to be the name of the US’s very first, first lady.

Martha’s time for a revival has almost passed. She peaked in the 1880s, around the same time as other modern revival names, Anna and Emma, that have been popular for almost a decade already. Anna has already begun to decline.

However, parents may not have grown tired of the 1880s yet. For proof, see Alice and Clara’s recent rise: Alice jumped approximately 28 places in 2010, ranking at 172, and Clara has been climbing steadily the past decade, ranking slightly ahead of Alice at 167.

Yet Martha continues to decline, dropping over 300 places the past decade, ranking at 709 in 2010. I’m not sure why this is, but I’m not really concerned with why, but rather I want to draw attention to an underused gem.

Like many names that appeal to parents, Martha can have many faces. In addition to the first-first lady, there’s:

  • Model-turned-stockbroker-turned-entrepreneur, Martha Stewart
  • 80’s MTV personality, Martha Quinn
  • Fox News personality, Martha MacCallum
  • And finally, Martha Plimpton who may not be a household name, but whose face would be recognized from several movies, notably The Goonies and Beautiful Girls. Currently she has a regular role in the hit Fox comedy, Raising Hope (another fantastic name).

My husband’s grandmother is Martha, and there’s a good chance many of today’s parents have a grandmother, great-grandmother or great-aunt Martha. The name stayed close to the top 30 until around World War II.

I myself had briefly considered Martha as a middle name had our son been a girl. But its hard to say if Martha could have ended up on another birth certificate in our family.

When I first mentioned Martha as a potential middle name to Rob, his response was, “Like in Martha Washington. That’s cool.”

When he started nixing every girl name on my list, I thought dispite my dislike of alliteration with our M last name, perhaps Rob would agree to Martha as a first name.

When I mentioned Martha again, his response was, “Martha? Isn’t that sort of old?”

And that is the most likely reason Martha is still on the decline; she is still seen as “old” to many modern parents. Why some great-grandmother names are seen as charmingly vintage while others are seen as dusty relics is sometimes a mystery.

Consider this though: Martha has more history and stability than early 20th century flash-in-the pan Gladys. While Gladys still ranked lower than Martha in 2010, I had met a little Gladys at my daughter’s library playgroup. The other parent’s reaction to Gladys on a little one was positive.

Personally, I would much rather see a little Martha, a name that has the same classic charm as Anna and Emma. Adding even more potential, those stylish Brits appreciate Martha, ranking her at 85 in 2010. As mentioned in my post on nickname names, the UK trends are sometimes a precursor to US trends.

For those looking for something a little more exotic and spunky there’s Marta with origins in several European countries, including Spain, Portugal, Poland, Norway, and Italy. Marta was also one of the children in The Sound of Music.

Before I began to consider Martha, I had turned to Marta three or four years ago. Martha still seemed a bit dusty to me at the time. However, after realizing the appeal of Martha, I like that name even more than Marta now.

Readers: What do you think of Martha? Is Martha a dusty relic or come back kid?




  1. I do love Martha Plimpton in Raising Hope, one of the funniest shows on tv these days! 🙂

    • My husband loves that show! I haven’t seen much of it, but I put it in my Netflix que and maybe if I find a free moment, I will check it out.

  2. Whenever I hear the the name Martha it always conjures up pictures of old ladies. LOL. We know an older lady named Martha and she can be sweet, but she can also be, um, feisty (for lack of a better word). Sometimes personal associations get in the way as much as anything.

    • You are right about associations. Sometimes they can ruin a perfectly good name! I used to associate Martha with old ladies too, until recently.

  3. Martha sounds old lady-ish to me, but also growing up I knew a kid named Martha and she wasn’t the nicest of people.

    • Isn’t it funny how knowing a mean person with a name can tarnish the name. I knew a mean girl in school named Nicki and for years I hated that name, until I met my husband’s cousin Nicki who is one of the nicest and most talented people I know. My husband’s cousin sort of redeemed Nicki. Maybe a cute baby Martha can redeem Martha as well.

  4. Martha is a lovely name, and one I can ALMOST imagine myself using. The trouble is, to me it sounds, well, fat. I don’t know any fat Marthas or anything like that, it just has a heavy sound to it – maybe more sturdy than fat.

    The fact that Martha in the Bible was always in the kitchen may be partially responsible.

    • Sometimes certain names create certain images for me too, that don’t always make any sense. I almost didn’t name my daughter Fiona because I picture a blonde or red-head person and I doubted my daughter would be blonde or red headed. But in time, the name fit.

      • TBH, Fiona sounds red-headed or blonde to me too, and actually all the people I know with this name have been fair-headed or red-headed.

        I don’t think that’s a problem though, while if a Martha did end up being a bit tubby, then Fatty Matty seems the obvious nickname.

        • My Fiona has brown hair. What caused us to go with it, is that my husband actually knew a Fiona growing up, back when it was rare in the U.S. There may be a few 30 something Fiona’s in Australia, but in the U.S. there are hardly any, but my husband knows a 30-something, Asian Fiona.

        • There is a children’s TV series called George and Martha and George and Martha are hippos it aired in Australia in the 2000’s I used to love it as a child.

  5. Martha C says:

    Being a Martha has had its ups and downs. I have to admit I wanted to change it when I was in grade school and did go by Marti in college and for a while after. With some time and maturation I have come to appreciate my name. Both my first and middle names come from my grandmothers. I have a familial name for my middle name. I have noticed the name already has had some comeuppance in the television world. First the first lady’s name during the one season of ’24’, then there is Castle’s mother in ‘Castle’ and then the flying thing in the show ‘Eureka,’ for example. I am sure there are more. There is also the movie ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ so it is having an upswing or resurgence. Oh, I just remembered the Martha as the one doctor in the last season of ‘House’ played by the actress who played ‘Joan of Arcadia, Amber Tamblyn.’ Martha is an honorable old fashioned name and I think I will keep it.

  6. I am now 64 years old. I’ve had a troubled relationship with my first name all my life. It reminded me of dead Presidents’ wives (Washington and Jefferson). When I was in high school quite a number of women in my class were named Martha. This spawned the use of the inevitable nicknames, Marty, Muffy, Mart, etc. In my adult life, I took Martha back. My mother said she picked it because it was a “good solid biblical name,” and so it was. For reasons I will never understand, people either love or hate the name Martha, and other people feel either entitled or duty-bound to tell me which and why. I say, however, that, if you are drawn to biblical names, you’ll be doing your child more of a favor if you name her Hannah or Rachel. These are names to which others seem to respond positively. But still I send a shout-out to all Martha’s out there — we are a small club.

  7. Max Astrophel says:

    I prefer Gladys over Martha, which makes me wonder if the name nerds of 2116 will be talking about the wonderfully vintage names they found on their family tree: Mykaylah and Alexus. (Spoiler alert: you’re going to have a great-great-granddaughter named Mykaylah Alexus.)

    Martha is too stodgy and — somehow — conformist. And yes, obese. I blame Martha Dunnstock/Dumptruck for that last one, not to mention the name’s extreme resemblance to Bertha. I don’t see Martha coming back unless Bertha does, and I see Bertha coming back in roughly ∞ years. And yet, I insist about half of the late 20th century name lexicon is perfectly appropriate for a baby in 2016. Apparently, guys have the outdated taste thing going on even when they themselves are name nerds.


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