Friday, May 20, 2011

Baby Names for Mary

Baby Names for Mary...
in the Mary month of May
I’m thinking about baby names these days. We have a baby—possibly our fourth girl—due in July, and we always try to find both a saint’s name and a family name for our child. And in this month of Mary, I’m thinking: what better patron to choose for your baby than the Blessed Mother?

We Catholics especially have named our girls after Mary for centuries. It’s one of the most popular names in English for the last 400 years, according to Nameberry, a baby name web site that offers information and advice on style and naming trends as well as the customary database of names and their meanings.

But according to their ranking, which tracks a name’s usage in the U.S. for the last 130 years, Mary as a baby name choice has fallen off considerably. The Social Security Administration, which released its statistics for baby names in 2010 last week, shows that even in the last ten years,  "Mary" went from a rank of 47 to 109.

The authors at Nameberry say: “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 400-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 ...”

They came up with a handful of options. I had fun coming up with three times as many. I cast a wide net for names that I find appealing or intriguing, with some of the most obvious first, and some that might not at first glance be associated with Marian naming tradition—incognito Mary names. (Many are non-traditional enough that I’d still want a “regular” saint’s name like Catherine or Therese to go with it, but I’d know it is for Mary!)

The Hebrew form Miriam is in the Old Testament; Mara is too. Maryam (Aramaic) and Mariam (Greek) are New Testament forms of the name Jesus’ mother bore, of which Mary is actually an Anglicized version. The Latin Maria is a beautiful, classic name. Mariel is my favorite French version. The Irish Maire and Moira are also appealing.

Diminutives of Mary abound. These nickname-names strike me as a delightful reminder of being a cherished daughter of her Heavenly Mother. Maisie is adorable, and so isMimiMamie is a family name, so I’m biased; so are Molly and Polly, in fact. (I really like Moll, too.) Other favorite derivatives of Mary are MarabelMariMae, and Maren.

Mary as the New Eve inspires EveEva and, indirectly, EdenVirginia becomes a tribute to the Blessed Virgin. Donna, “lady,” is a possibility. Marit is an Aramaic version of “lady” that has the added benefit of phonetic similarity to "Mary"—an interesting option, although Martha is a more familiar one with the same origin.

The various titles and honorifics of Mary are full of choices. ReginaReina, and Quinn honor Mary as the Queen of Heaven; for that matter, so can Heaven and Caeli, both of which have been used for girls. I love both Stella and Maris from “Star of the Sea,” and Luz from “Bearer of Light.” Consuelo comes from Our Lady of Consolation.Dolores and Deirdre could relate to Our Lady of Sorrows.

The Litany of Loreto is rich with possibilities that relate to Our Lady. Just a few: Amabel and Amilia (Mother most amiable), Mercy and Mercedes (Virgin most merciful),Sophie and Sophia (Seat of wisdom), Ivory (Tower of ivory), Portia (Gate of heaven), Angelica (Queen of Angels).

Attributes of Mary can suggest names as well. Grace and the Latin Gratia reminds us that Mary was full of grace. Immaculée and Concepción also honor her sinlessness. Place names based on apparitions are popular names; consider Carmel, LourdesGuadalupeFatima.

From Spanish and Portuguese come Nieves and Neves, for Our Lady of the Snows. A baby Gracia could be the namesake of Our Lady of Altagracia, patroness of the Dominican Republic. Pilar honors Our Lady of the Pillar, an apparition and dedicated church from apostolic times.

Various symbols, especially flowers, associated with Mary are lovely name choices: Rose, the queen of flowers; Lily, for Mary’s purity; Iris, a symbol of her Seven Sorrows. The almond, a symbol of Mary’s favor, gives us AmandineCora means “maiden” and is related to “heart.” Even Mary’s traditional color, Blue, has become an intriguing name possibility.

And I haven’t even come close to listing all of them. Is your favorite "Mary" name on the list?

— Nicole Stallworth is a wife, mother, and (as life allows) writer who blogs from Georgia at Saints in Progress. Her ninth baby is due in July, so she is also looking for masculine names in case she has her sixth boy.

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