Marshall: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on May 23, 2013

English: Field Marshal Photo credit: Wikipedia

Is he an occupational name?  An homage to Eminem?  Or just a surprisingly normal name for a boy born in 2013?

Thanks to Patricia for suggesting Marshall as our Baby Name of the Day.

Once upon a time, a marshal was the man charged with readying the king’s horses for battle.  He translates roughly to horse servant.  From lining up the horses, the marshal’s role grew.  Today a field marshal is usually the top dog in a military organization, the equivalent of admiral, higher up the pyramid than even a general.

There are also fire marshals – charged with safety inspections and, sometimes, with investigating suspicious fires.

US Marshals have been around since the eighteenth century.  They’re part of the Justice Department, the enforcement arm for the court system – transporting prisoners to court, tracking down fugitives, and protecting witnesses, inspiring Hollywood blockbusters, and so on.

Famous US marshals include the real-life Wyatt Earp, as well as the fictional Morgan Kane and Gunsmoke’s Matt Dillon

And yet it’s not quite like naming your child Duke or Sergeant.  And he’s not as fierce as Slayde or Gunner, though he does bring to mind martial – warlike.

Maybe that’s because Marshall – with the double L – has become a very common surname.

  • The Marshall Islands lie in the Pacific Ocean, named after an English sea captain, John Charles Marshall.
  • West Virginia‘s Marshall University, for example, was named after John Marshall, fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • George C. Marshall authored the Marshall Plan, calling for American investment in war-ravaged Europe following the second World War.
  • Penny Marshall graduated from the front of the camera to the director’s chair, but we still think of her as Laverne.
  • Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American Supreme Court Justice.

But Marshall has a long history of use in the first place, too.  There’s philosopher Marshall McLuhan and musician Marshall Crenshaw.  Jason Segel plays the likeable Marshall Eriksen on How I Met Your Mother.  Marshall Mathers is a household name – except it’s his stage name, Eminem, that we recognize.

If you’re looking for a name that strikes a balance between familiar and unusual, Marshall could suit.  He’s charted between 200 and 400, give or take a few places, for seven decades.  That’s a steady pattern, and it means we recognize Marshall without knowing a whole lot of men by the name.

The only high profile use in recent years comes via the NFL.  Peyton Manning and wife Ashley gave the name to their son, born in 2011, twin brother to Mosely.  But the Mannings are famously private about their lives, so don’t expect to see Marshall Manning on television – at least not until he’s a third generation football star.

Marshall can’t be called fashionable, but neither is he fusty.  That might be part of the challenge.  You can imagine hipster parents embracing Chester, Leroy, or Floyd, and yet somehow Marshall isn’t far enough out there to fit.  At the same time, he’s not likely to appeal to parents who are all about Landon and Carter, despite their similar surname style.

This leaves the door open.  If Marshall is a family name for you, or if you’re charmed by his slightly Southern feel, I can almost promise that he’s not taken.

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