A representation of the Mackenzie dress tartan.
A representation of the Mackenzie dress tartan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A 70s sitcom propelled this name to the top of the charts in the 1990s.

Thanks to everyone who suggested Mackenzie as Our Baby Name of the Day.

In 1976, the US Top 100 included Stephanie, Melanie, and Valerie.  And for the first time ever, the Top 1000 included the similar Mackenzie for girls, too.  She snuck into the rankings at #838.

The Scottish surname comes from a given name that meant attractive.  It was originally Mac Coinneach or Mac Coinnich.  Purists will insist that Mac means “son of” – and they’re correct.  As for Coinneach, it is typically Anglicized as Kenneth.

Mackenzie has been in sparing use for boys over the centuries.  A nineteenth century Canadian prime minister is one notable; British artist Mackenzie Thorpe is a contemporary example.  In the US, Mackenzie ranked in the boys’ Top 1000 from 1985 to 2001, likely some blend of family name and nod to Scottish heritage, bolstered by the stories of Clan Mackenzie.  His wider popularity came thanks to actor Mackenzie Astin, who joined the cast of The Facts of Life as Andy in 1985.

Like many surnames and some modern coinages, Mackenzie was on the rise for boys and girls at the same time.

Credit for popularizing the name for girls goes to Laura Mackenzie Phillips, better known by her middle name.  The daughter of John Phillips, legendary member of the folk quartet The Mamas & the Papas, Mackenzie became an actress and household name in her own right.  She made her big screen debut in 1973’s American Graffiti before starring in 1970s hit sitcom One Day at a Time.

Phillips played rebellious teenager Julie Cooper.  Life imitated fiction, as Phillips struggled with a host of personal problems.  She left the series more than once, and her tell-all biography reveals drug abuse and more.  But none of that has tarnished the name Mackenzie.

Mackenzie debuted in the girls’ Top 1000 at #838 in 1976, and climbed steadily.  Three syllable, ends-in-ee names have always been popular for girls, from Dorothy to Kimberly to Natalie to Destiny.  Plenty of parents who have used the name in recent years have probably never heard of the 70s sitcom.

Mackenzie reached #198 in 1991, broke into the Top 100 in 1995, and peaked at #40 in 2001.  Today she stands at #68.  Like many a popular name, Mackenzie splintered.  In 2001, three spellings were in favor:

  • Mackenzie at #40
  • Mckenzie at #135
  • Makenzie at #198

All three spellings remain in the Top 1000 today.  Countless more are in use: Makenzy, Mckenzi, Mackenzi, Makenzee, Mikenzie, Mekenzie, Mackensie, Makenzye, even Mkenzie, likely spelled M’Kenzie in real life.  The Duggar mega-family introduced first granddaughter Mykenzie on their reality show, the spelling apparently inspired by a cousin’s name.

Today the oldest Mackenzies are moms themselves, but most are still school-aged, or even younger, as the names fades slowly from the heights of popularity.  While parents are still using Mackenzie and company, it would be hard to argue that she’s fresh or inventive today.  And she’s not quite classic, either.  That said, if Mackenzie is a family name, it remains a great possibility – just stick to the original spelling.  Mackenzie seems infinitely more sophisticated than, say, M’ahkensee.

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About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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  1. As is my general feeling on using surnames, I like Mackenzie only if there is a family connection, and spelt the way the family spells it.

    I always feel a bit odd about the popularity of surnames as first names. It seems like there’s a very narrow range of names, mostly derived from some part of the UK. No big trend towards naming kids Rodriguez for no particular reason, or Mikhailovich, and they’re as much patrynomics as MacKenzie or Jackson.

    It feels a bit weird to me.

    1. Jordanna, I agree – and I would hesitate to ink an English surname on my kids’ birth certificates, as they’re mostly Italian and Polish, and it feels the tiniest bit inauthentic. But I’m into family names. If I weren’t, there are lots of surnames that appeal to me on sound alone.

      My husband’s middle is the English equivalent of his mother’s maiden name. I’ve met a few other people who have similar stories, or have made similar choices for their children. I know someone who truncated a long, family German surname to get a very wearable middle name for both of her kids. So they’re tough to spot, but I do think they’re out there …

  2. To me, taking a name from a foreign country and not respecting its original gender is not only annoying, but disrespectful. Mackenzie clearly is a masculine name, and it remains masculine in the UK (McKenzie, Mackenzie and Kenzie). I once met a older irish man who was appaled that people named girls Kelly, he said “if you’re naming your daughters Kelly you might as well name her Patrick”. If I were Irish or Scottish or whatever, say named MacKenzie or Rory, and I came to the US to find it being used and abused on little girls, I’d be not only irritated, but I’d probably feel insulted.

  3. Mackenzie doesn’t bother me because I grew up with so many it seems as normal a name as Allison.

    Makayla bothers me immensely, mostly because I love the name spelled Michaela.

  4. Unless you’re a total “meaning of names” purist, to criticize the “son of” names is silly because there are tons of names that have meanings that aren’t great.

    Meaning can be important, but I have a feeling that people who are looking down on parents who have named their daughter something that means “son of” think a name like Sloane is cool- Sloane apparently means “man of arms.”

    And so what if someone borrows a name from another culture? Being American, I could identify at least 10 different countries in my background… at some point, it all just gets muddled.

    One reason that this site is so great is because I can see a name and not like it, but once I’ve read the history about it, I at least appreciate it more.

    1. I agree with you completely, AirLand. I happen to like the meanings of my kids’ names, but those are happy accidents. We took names (more or less) from our family trees. If those names had unpleasant derivations it simply would not matter one bit.

      As for backgrounds, that’s a very nice point. Our kids can claim at least half a dozen heritages, but their names don’t match up very well with our ancestors’ nations of origin. I’d never actually given it a moment’s thought. (That’s saying something, I think.)

  5. This could grow on me if someone actually used it in honour of a family name. It is interesting to note that many have said this is the type of name they would have liked as a child and used on their Barbies. Not me. I went from despising it to actually somewhat appreciating it if used in the correct context. Even then, it is still not a huge favorite.

  6. Well, MacKenzie *is* my surname, and I much prefer it with the capital K.

    When Josie was born, she didn’t have a first name to go on the bassinet at the hospital so they wrote only her last name on it. I got so many “oh, what a pretty name” comments which made me cringe as I replied (every time) with a ” but that’s her Last Name!”

    That said, the cute little girl across the street is a Mackenzie. We were invited to her big brother J@cob’s birthday party a few years ago. When his mom found out our last name was the same as her princess’s first, she was horrified. She has since stopped talking to us and tries very hard to pretend we’re not here. 😀 It makes me laugh, actually. I think it’s a horrible choice for a girl’s first name if it’s a random choice. If it’s a family name, I wouldn’t mind it on a boy. I can’t wait to hear what little Mackenzie’s nickname will end up. (My money’s on Mac). ;D

    1. That’s a strange reaction on the mother’s part! Was she embarrassed by her name choice?

      1. @Charlotte Vera: I’m not sure, really. I’m afraid to ask her. :/ But, yep. Embarrassed was my first guess. *shrug* Not my problem. 😀

        1. that does seem strange to me. I would think it was great. I guess we’re all different.

  7. I know a man whose mother wanted to name him Mackenzie in the mid 80s, but got talked down into making it a middle name instead. His first name is Ryan and he’s said he dodged a bullet (he has a very traditional, conservative personality, lifestyle and career).

  8. I was honestly surprised by the Mackenzie hate, especially those who take issue with the meaning. Do you dislike Allison just as much? What about Charlotte, the feminization of Charles, meaning “manly?” Or Mallory, meaning bad luck? Or Cecilia? Claudia?

    If so, more power to you for at least being consistent. But it truly bothers me when people get hung up on one meaning but not another, equally “bad.”

    Mackenzie’s not my style, but like many I like to avoid surnames that aren’t in my family tree. But I can’t say I’d rule out MacKay (rhymes with eye), which IS a family name, for a boy OR girl.

    1. Because Mackenzie is taking a surname from a foreign culture that was created to signify something very simple – a boy who is Kenneth’s son – and use it for a woman who is Albert or Bill’s son. With Addison and Emerson is even worse because these the meaning in so obvious even in modern English – Addy’s son, Emer’s son (yet somehow Jackson and Harrison are seen as completely male – go figure).

      (Alison is a French name of a completely different origin – Alice plus the diminutive suffix “on”. Not comparable.)

      Charlotte, Claudia, and Cecilia have been used in the Western World for centuries. They are the names of royals and saints and those associations are much more important than their original, obscure meanings.

      That being said, I don’t have a problem with using surnames as first names as long as they are actually in the family tree – and aren’t patronymics on girls.

      1. I don’t quite understand the hatred of patronymics on girls when dealing with a name in their family tree. Obviously, women have been given said names as surnames for centuries. I would understand the logic if such names were only given to male decendants, but that isn’t the case now. Also, to me, the “meaning” of the name is referencing the first “son of Kenneth,” and not the whole of his lineage.

        1. To clarify, I am referring to last names with “I would understand the logic if such names were only given to male decendants, but that isn’t the case now.”

      2. depends on where you live. not many people where I’m from would have any idea of the name of a royal or a saint with any of those names. Mackenzie does not feel like it comes from a foreign culture to them if their grandfather is Scottish, for instance. Most people who use mackenzie on a girl though aren’t familiar with any of those things. they just like how it sounds.