Molly: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on November 8, 2012

Molly Ringwald Cover of Molly Ringwald

She’s an affectionate form of the enduring Mary, a spunky nickname form that now stands on her own.

Thanks to Kristin for suggesting Molly as our Baby Name of the Day.

Once upon a time, the pool of possible given names was shallow.  Sharing a given name was the norm.  To distinguish your daughter Mary from your sister’s daughter Mary and your aunt Mary, a wealth of nickname forms evolved.

Mary gave rise to Mare and then Male and Mal and Mally.  Mally became Molly, and eventually Polly, too.  Plenty of -r names took -l in affectionate forms: Hal for Harold, Dolly for Dorothy.

All of this makes it tough to know exactly how many women have answered to the name Molly over the years, as they’re likely to be recorded in official records as Mary, from the Middle Ages right into the 20th century.  Mary was the #1 name for girls in the US from 1880 through the 1950s.

Molly, meanwhile, ranked #400 in 1880, and hovered around that mark into the 1940s.

But as Mary left the top spot, Molly started to rise.  She entered the Top 200 in 1973, and the Top 100 in 1987.  Instead of going straight up, she’s balanced there, #74 in 1991, #107 in 2002, #78 in 2011.  It’s hard to say where she’s headed, but she’s definitely a quiet favorite.  Today, she ranks a few places ahead of Mary.

Alternate spellings are possible, chiefly Mollie, currently at #648.  Incidentally, just like Sally, the -ie spelling was once far more common.  In fact, back in 1880, Mollie ranked #81.

Famous Mollys abound.  There’s:

  • Mary “Molly” Brandt was born a Mohawk and became a consort of the British superintendent for Indian Affairs.  During the American Revolution, she was an important figure in British Canada.
  • Titanic survivor Margaret Brown is better known as the Unsinkable Molly Brown, remembered for helping others into lifeboats during the tragedy.  Most accounts indicate that she was known as Maggie during her lifetime.  A semi-biographical 1960 Broadway musical gave her the other nickname.
  • Marion Bloom, better known as Molly, is the Penelope figure in James Joyce’s Ulysses.
  • Outspoken columnist Mary Ivins, better known as Molly.
  • 1980s teen queen Molly Ringwald.
  • One of the early American Girl characters is World War II era Molly McIntire.
  • Molly Weasley is mom-to-many red-haired witches in the Harry Potter series
  • On a fierce note, Molly Millions is an assassin, a mercenary cyborg, in William Gibson’s Neuromancer series.

There’s an slight Irish note about her, thanks in part to historical use patterns.  There are also the Molly Maguires, an Irish secret society big in the Pennsylvania coal mining region in the 1870s.  Part-fraternal organization, part-early union, stories about the origin of their name vary.  In some, Mollie Maguire was a tavern keeper where early organizers met; in other tellings, she’s a widow evicted from her home whose plight inspires the organizers.

Molly has some unsavory associations, too.  A gun moll is slang for a gangster’s girlfriend.  Farther back, moll or molly was a term for a prostitute.

The negatives are almost completely forgotten circa 2012, and Molly is just a popular name for a girl.  She’s energetic and informal, sweet and gutsy.

It is easy to see why parents have embraced the storied, enduring Molly.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Panya November 26, 2012 at 1:13 PM

We named our newly-adopted molly cat Mallaidh, a Gaelic spelling of Molly. ;-) She was born at the shelter and they named her Merry. My sister-in-law’s late cat was named Mary Jane and I didn’t want to hurt or confuse my young niece and nephews by calling our girl something so similar, but I didn’t want to change it too much either so we went from Merry to Mary to Molly to Mallaidh. I didn’t find out about the molly/tom cat thing until afterward, so the name seemed even more perfect. She’s a sweet girl and Mallaidh just suits her so well.

A girl I went to school with named her oldest Molly — her baby sister is Add!son — I *think* those names were chosen because she’s a fan of the Chicago Cubs and the band Flogging Molly.

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Jonquil November 9, 2012 at 7:46 AM

I think of “Sweet Molly Malone” – and of my formidable geography teacher, a Mary Margaret who went by Molly. (Incidentally, I know a Margaret Mary who goes by Mimi – cute!).
Another in the genre is Lolly for Laura – but that one seems to have died out!

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Charlotte Vera November 9, 2012 at 2:03 AM

Growing up (admittedly in India) I didn’t realise that Molly was still a name in use. Imagine my surprise when I encountered an adult Molly at age eighteen when traveling in Australia (the girl in question was American). Then I discovered that it’s actually a fairly popular name in some places. I know this sounds silly, but for me it was like suddenly realising that unicorns are exist.

I like the name, but it still has a sort of fairytale essence for me — like I couldn’t use it without feeling slightly foolish.

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Liz November 9, 2012 at 12:28 AM

Virginia Sue is great!!!

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Via November 8, 2012 at 11:34 PM

Ah, I love Molly. Sweet and a little bit saucy. I’m actually reminded of Molly from the movie Uptown Girl.

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Kristin November 8, 2012 at 10:03 AM

I love Molly. The husband and I had somewhat of an epiphany where baby girl names are concerned a couple weeks back, and we finally have a top name and backup that we both love. Virginia Sue is tops, while Molly Ramona is the backup. Both middles are after my grandmother, Ramona Sue, who lost her battle with lung cancer last January. Her daddy liked to call her Sue. Virginia won out for honoring my great-great Aunt Virgie who will be celebrating her 102nd birthday on New Year’s Day, but also because it has more options than Molly. That is Molly’s downfall to me. It’s spunky and sweet, but has no wiggle room.

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Kristin November 8, 2012 at 10:04 AM

Now we just need an actual baby to name. :)

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KatieB November 8, 2012 at 9:10 AM

Molly has been growing on me a lot lately. My grandmother is Mary but has always gone by her middle name Nell. Another Mary associated with my family makes the name too unusable to me, but Molly is a sweet and just uncommon enough alternative. :) It also fits with a lot of the other nickname-y names on my list: Edie, Rand, Wiley & Molly.

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Mair November 3, 2012 at 6:53 PM

I used Molly for my Boxer, and it fit her well. She was so playful and vivacious. I love the name, and any time I hear it now, it reminds of my sweet girl.

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Emily November 3, 2012 at 3:07 PM

“Molly Weasley is mom-to-many red-haired witches in the Harry Potter series”

This is a super picky detail, but the Potter nerd in me can’t resist. Molly Weasley is a mom to many red-haired WIZARDS. Arthur and Molly Weasley have six sons and a daughter. They only have one red-haired witch. :)

I adore Molly and used it for one of my characters. I’ve always imagined a Molly as being a very strong and graceful woman – a steel magnolia.

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Elizabeth November 3, 2012 at 2:26 PM

I like molly as a nickname for Marigold.

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Kristin November 8, 2012 at 10:21 AM

That is inspired!

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M November 3, 2012 at 12:07 PM

Molly is great, but I don’t think it ages well. I know several 20-something Mollys, and it just seems odd. I love it for a kid, but not a grown woman.

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Julie November 3, 2012 at 9:39 AM

We already have a Maria and my niece is nicknamed Mallie… so it’s out for us, but I really like Molly. Like Minnie and Milly, I’d prefer Molly be a used as a nickname for something more “grown-up”, but it’s very charming.

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April November 3, 2012 at 7:54 AM

I like Molly a lot. My mother despises the name. She had a shrew of an aunt named Molly. I think she would disown me if I ever used it.

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Megalady November 3, 2012 at 6:09 AM

Molly’s a sweet name. The cat association makes it even sweeter to me.

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