Name of the Day: Mallory

by appellationmountain on August 15, 2008

Back in the 80s, Madison the mermaid splashed her way onto the streets of New York and fueled the last-names-first trend. At the same time, on the small screen, a similar choice was gaining notice of her own.

Thanks to Jess for suggesting today’s Name of the Day: Mallory.

Odds are that you’ve seen an episode of Family Ties, which followed the life of the Keaton family on NBC from 1982 to 1989 and launched the career of Michael J. Fox. Justine Bateman played Mallory, the sweet slacker daughter. If the writers ever mentioned the rationale for using such an unusual moniker – especially when their other kids went by Alex, Jennifer and Andrew – the reference isn’t readily available.

Regardless, it was a good decade for the name. While the very feminine Jennifer, Jessica and Amanda remained firmly at the top of the heap, other trends were gaining speed. Popular two-syllable, ends-in-y choices, often borrowed from the boys, included Ashley, Lindsey/Lindsay and Whitney. Last names like Jordan, Kendall, Darcy, Taylor and of course, Madison, all appeared in the Top 1000.

Mallory debuted at #334 in 1983, a year after Family Ties first aired. Three years later, she peaked at #86. While the name has dropped steadily since then, it remains far from obscure – #247 in 2007.

We suspect that Mallory has failed to reach the heights of similar names because of her unfortunate meaning – literally. Originally an English surname, it has French Norman roots – evolving from Malorie to Malory to today’s most familiar version. Any one with a smattering of high school French can unpack the etymology. The bit “mal” is attached to words not unlike the English “un” – heureux is happy; malheureux is the opposite. In Old French, maleüré would have translated to ill-omened, and so the commonly given meanings for the name are luckless, unfortunate, unhappy.

One of the best known bearers of the surname was early 20th century mountaineer George Mallory. He perished on his third attempt to peak Everest. Unfortunately, no one knows if he made it to the top or not. And, of course, there’s Sir Thomas Malory, the 15th century author of Le Morte d’Arthur. While little is known of Malory’s life, his name appears in the historical record with some frequency – he was often arrested and imprisoned.

Those two figures aside, there have been plenty of perfectly well-adjusted bearers of the surname. While we’re not overly focused on the meanings listed in baby name dictionaries, we’ll admit that this one – combined with the ill-fated explorer’s tale – gives us pause.

Still, we suspect that there will be a steady stream of parents willing to overlook that defect. The name has remained visible as Mallory Dent, a first-season character on the CW’s Veronica Mars and the faerie-fencing Mallory Grace in children’s book series, The Spiderwick Chronicles.

While you won’t hear it in use internationally, it also has the feel of a logical choice in the US. Mackenzie is past her moment, but Delaney is hovering at the fringes of the Top 200. And with some parents considering choices like Devony and Romilly, Mallory seems relatively conservative.

On balance, we find Mallory a reasonable option for parents who like the idea of a surname-inspired choice, but want something that reads strongly feminine. She’s never been a chart-topper, so chances are that your Mallory won’t share her name with many others – but it will feel nicely familiar.

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