There’s something about Mary (to quote the 90s movie title). Mary had been the steady favorite for generations, making Mary the greatest cross-generational name.
Now at an all time popularity low, Mary is often dismissed as “too boring” or “too common” in an age where commonality has become almost like a disease with some parents.
And for a while Mary did signify a lack of originality. How could it not? Mary held the number one spot longer than any other girl name, from 1880 (the earliest year data is available) to 1946, and then returned to number one from 1953 to 1961.
But more telling than a prolonged number one rank are the percentages of babies that were named Mary each year, which averaged a little over 5% during most of Mary’s (recorded) height. The percentages were even higher in the late 19th century when around 7% of baby girls each year were named Mary.
Compare this to the approximately 3% of baby girls per year named Jennifer during the 70s or the less than 1% given the most recent number one girl name, Sophia, in 2011. (2011 is the most recent year name data is available.)
Perhaps in light of these numbers, Mary deserves a rest. Mary has been in decline since the late 60s. In 2009 Mary left the top 100 and ranked at #112 in 2011. There’s no sign that Mary’s decline will soon reverse or level-out.
Yet I theorize most people would be pleasantly surprised to meet a baby Mary in 2013. In 2011 Mary was surpassed by fashion favorites Ruby (#109) and Piper (#110) both of which are trending upwards, and in the case of Piper—dramatically. Somehow Mary seems a lot less popular than those names.
Mary is so notorious that even the name that finally knocked Mary off the top spot earned a distinction. Yet the name that earned that distinction, Linda, is a young grandmother name now, while Mary remains ageless.
And I believe when Piper becomes a grandmother name (and it will) Mary will still be ageless. By the time Piper is a grandmother (around 2075) Mary could finally rebound. I can’t picture Mary returning to the top spot, but I can’t picture Mary dipping below #450 either. Like Emma Mary could become a “comeback queen” that returns to the top 10 after a few decades on the down low.
If you like Mary, the next couple of decades are a great time to use it. The name is more underused than ever. But people who like Mary may not be overly concerned with uniqueness. The appeal with Mary might lie in its religious significance. Mary is used several times in the New Testament.
Like many names, Mary has an uncertain meaning. Mary’s roots go back to Maria and Miriam. This family of names is large and complex and includes Marie, Malia, Mia, and Mariah.
Modern classic Molly originated as a derivative of Mary and so did quirky homespun Polly, a medieval variant of Molly. The Mary/Molly/Polly transition is historical, but the exact reasons for the M-to-P switch are a mystery.
And then there are masculine variations on Mary. Marion can be unisex and Marius is the masculine form of Maria, and has a fashion-forward suffix: us.
A few years ago I, like many other people, dismissed Mary as dull and overused. But then I realized just about every name in the Mary family has an endearing quality. In time, I grew to appreciate Mary.
Considering that many expectant parents try so very hard to find that different name, possibly turning to Ada as a substitute for Ava or Sylvia for Sophia, Mary seems almost like an ironically rebellious choice. (One of Mary’s possible meanings is “rebelliousness”).
My great-grandmother was named Mary, but I didn’t consider her name for our great-grandparent series because Mary doesn’t seem like a great-grandmother name. But perhaps Mary is the ultimate great-grandmother name. I estimate about 25% of my readers have a great-grandmother named Mary. That’s today’s poll question: Do you have a great-grandmother named Mary?