Mary: The Ultimate Name

Mary-lambThere’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?

Photo credit




  1. My mother in law is Mary. It’s enough to permanently knock it off the list. My grandmother is Marie.

  2. I don’t have any great-grandmothers named Mary. I do have one name Ruth Miriam. And, I have one great-great-grandmother name Mary and one name Minnie, I also have a distant cousin or something named Mary Frances.

  3. British American says:

    My mother-in-law is named Mary. My husband also really likes the name. His favourite name has always been Lucy, but in 2011 when we had our 3rd, he said how much he likes the name Mary. Though since it was already ‘taken’ by his Mom, he didn’t want to use it again.

  4. No Mary’s here. I remember a few Mary’s from when I was in school. There were more Linda’s, though. Apparently, all the baby boomers named their daughters Linda, including my parents. lol I voted in the poll, and I’ll have to come back to check the results. Now I’m curious. lol

  5. I’ve got a great grandmom named Mary and a great great named Maria (different family lines.) We are actually debating naming our second daughter Mary, and we have a Lucy already. So this was perfect timing to read! I know a lot of people named Mary, but in a strange way, I know enough to make the name anonymous, not connected to one single person.

  6. No Marys that I can think of. My grandmas are Carol and Frances. My name was popular in the 1800’s, I understand, but you rarely hear it nowadays!

  7. No Mary relatives here. Come to think of it, I don’t know any children with the name either. It would be an old fashioned comeback!

  8. JennyJenJen says:

    I have a Mollie as a great-great-grandmother. Does that count? 🙂

  9. Mary's Really Me says:

    My name is Mary, and I very rarely met any other girls with my name growing up. I use both my first and middle names, and I can only remember one Mary of my generation who just went by Mary. I was almost always the only Mary in my class, and my name seemed uncommon to me in the 80’s and 90’s, when I was in school. Oddly enough, people do misspell my name on a regular basis, but mostly that happens when I am giving my first-middle combo.

    • I love the name Mary. When I was growing up, there was a book titled, Is It a Saints Name? You would sit in a class. Among the girls there would be at least one Mary in the class. The Blessed Mother, the mother of Jesus,.
      There are not many baby girls name Mary today. It is a precious name. We named our first girl Mary.

  10. I voted yes, though out of all my great grandmothers I only have 1 that has Mary in her name, but it actually her second middle name. Her actual name was Alice Irene Mary, my other great-grandmothers were Ruby May, Gertrude and Frances – and a great-great-grandmother Isabelle and Catherine.

  11. I had two great-grandmothers named Mary. One was named for her aunt Marie. I would loooooove to see Mary come back (and I am rooting for Will and Kate to have a little Princess Mary to jump-start the trend).

  12. No, but I have a great aunt named Mary. Mary is a lovely name but I dislike that great aunt and cannot imagine using her name. My great grandmother were Anna, Lena, Margaret and Emma- all of which I could see on a baby today, my grandmas Doris and Gertrude both have more “dated” names.

    • Back in 1987 my neighbors named their daughter Lena after her great-grandmother. She was named after two great-grandmothers, Lena Gail. Lena never came back into style the way Emma and Sophia did, and I’m not sure why.

  13. Rachel Emma says:

    This post is perfect. I used to DESPISE Mary as a name. But suddenly about a year ago I started to like it and now I love it!
    This line is so fantastic “Mary seems almost like an ironically rebellious choice. (One of Mary’s possible meanings is “rebelliousness”).”
    In an age when people are simply trying to name their children different thing – I could totally see myself going the other way. It is so classic and would be very generationally different. I would also love to see the look on people’s faces when I introduced my sweet baby daughter Mary.
    I’m sure my husband will hate it but its worth a try and I would at least love to meet a little girl named Mary. 🙂

  14. I have a grandmother, cousin, two aunts, mother’s middle name, aunts on both sides with the middle name, and probably older relatives as well. My name is also a nickname of Mary. I think coming from an Irish Catholic family plays a big part of the large amount of Mary’s!

  15. To a Little Girl Named Mary Praised by countless voices ringing
    In the bright celestial choirs
    What a precious name you carry Blessed by little children singing
    Little Maid with eyes of blue Hymns of thanks of thanks and fond desires
    Just to think dear Mother Mary
    Shares her holy name with you Gracious with a grace supernal Tis the priceless jewel you carry
    Lovely as a morn in May Little girl with eyes so blue
    With a grace that is eternal Yet I know dear Mother Mary
    Sweetest name in all the ages This the name you bear today Gladly shares her name with you

    By Mary H Kennedy

  16. To a Little Girl Named Mary
    What a precious name you carry.
    Little maid with eyes of blue
    Just to think dear Mother Mary
    Shares her holy name with you

    Sweetest name in all he ages
    Loved of God and loved of man
    Honored by all saints and sages
    Ever since the world began

    Praised by countless voices ringing
    In the bright celestial choirs
    Blessed by little children singing
    Hymns of thanks and fond desires

    Gracious with a grace supernal
    Lovely as a morn in May
    With a grace that is eternal
    This the name you bear today

    Tis a priceless jewel you carry
    Little girl with eyes so blue
    Yet I know dear Mother Mary
    Gladly shares her name with you.

    by M. H. Kennedy


  1. […] Testament names such as John, Peter, and Mary have been in decline while Old Testament names such as Ethan, Elijah, Jacob, and Noah have been on […]

  2. […] – Bea, Beattie, Bee – work well. Similar favourites: Charlotte, Mary (touted here as the ‘ultimate’ name), Emily, Isabel, Evelyn, […]

Leave a Reply to Big Bold Biblical Names | Upswing Baby Names Cancel reply