Spotlight on: Marlon

Marlon_Brando_in_Steetcar_Named_Desire_trailerOld Hollywood glamour has hit the nursery. No other name can touch Ava (#5 in 2011) as the prime go-to Hollywood name. Audrey (#43) also has found recent success. Greta (#684), while much less popular than the other two, has been trending upwards.

Naturally Marlon would be the male counterpart to these style-makers. Right? The statistics don’t suggest this is the case. Marlon ranks in the 600s (at #632), around the same place as Greta. But while Greta is trending upwards, Marlon is trending downwards.

Apparently the “Old Hollywood” trend has only caught on with girls, otherwise we would be seeing a lot more of Cary, Clark, Humphrey, and Gregory on boys under 5. The most popular of these names, Gregory, ranked at #279 in 2011, and has trended downwards since it peaked a half-century ago. Cary hasn’t been in the top 1000 since the 1990s and Humphrey has only charted a few times in the 19th century. The most promising of these is perhaps Clark, which ranked at #616 in 2011.

While Clark ranks only slightly higher than Marlon, it seems to be gently climbing the charts, unlike Marlon. This is too bad, since both names seem almost equally easy-to-wear and familiar.

Marlon is a relative newcomer to the popularity charts, never hitting the top 1000 until 1950, right after the stage run and before the box office début of A Streetcar Named Desire, the Tennessee Williams play that launched the career of Hollywood icon Marlon Brando.

Apparently the actor generated awareness of his moniker but never inspired hoards of fans to name their sons after him. Marlon never ranked higher than #218, the peak it reached in 1972.

To me, the name sounds like one that would have an established etymology, but that does not seem to be the case. The history and meaning of Marlon is unknown, and its modern usage is attributed almost entirely to Marlon Brando, who was named after his father.

Possible origins include:

  1. Brando’s ethnicity is reputed to be at least part French, and the name could be related to the French surname Marlin, which could have also inspired Merlin as a first name.
  2. The name could also be derived from Marcus.

Other famous Marlon’s happen to be from the African-American community. There’s Michael Jackson’s older brother and former Jackson 5 member, Marlon Jackson. And there’s comedian, actor, screenwriter, director Marlon Wayans who was born in 1972, the year the name hit its peak.

1972 also happened to be the year Marlon Brando acted in his Academy Award winning role, Vito Corleone in The Godfather. This pivotal pop cultural event could have been responsible for Marlon’s small spike that year.

The actor’s surname, Brando has never been in the top 1000, but seems to pack more obvious trend appeal than his first name. But it is the actor’s first name with its smooth, understated style that seems both effortlessly timeless, and current.

The L may replace the D as the middle consonant found in popular N-suffix names. The well-known popularity of the “rhymes with maiden” boys’ names (Aiden, Brayden, Hayden, Jayden, etc.) could have inspired many parents to turn to Declan (#177) one of the fastest rising boy names of 2011. Marlon may not have the hard C Declan has that breaks up the L, but that could be what makes Marlon more timeless.

Marlon has a fluid quality. Name your baby Marlon, and you pick a name that is both underused and familiar and doesn’t come across as trying too hard.

Readers: What do you think of Marlon?


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  1. Waltzing More Than Matilda had a post about this name in the past week, for a mother looking for advice about using it for a sibling to their son Bugsy. I love it when a name crops up in a couple of places like this, makes me think she (the mother looking for advice) is really onto something 🙂

    I think it would make quite a handsome name!

    • I would recommend Marlon to anyone considering it. The name isn’t as popular on young children, but I feel it’s ageless, and can picture it on a kid today.

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