She’s a powerful goddess, a mournful woman, and everything in between.
But there’s so much more to Mara. She’s a goddess in Latvian myth, the equivalent of Juno. The only trouble is that Latvian mythology isn’t well documented, and it is possible that some of it was constructed after the fact, as a nod towards national pride. Still, that doesn’t make her any less of a Latvian heritage choice.
Mara has many less pleasant associations – the Old Norse mara is the source of the word mare. Folklore from at least the thirteenth century, and almost certainly earlier, gave the name mara to a goblin sent to torment sleepers – hence the term nightmare.
On the other side of the world, Mara’s daughters were the beautiful women a demon used to tempt Buddha. Mara was male – and, depending on your reading, somewhere between the embodiment of pure evil and a harmless pest.
A second male Mara surfaced in the 500s or 600s. The philosopher Mara bar Serapion hailed from Syria. His writings are among the oldest references to the historical Jesus that do not come out of a faith tradition.
And then there’s the Slavic witch. Even today, many Slavic cultures recognize Mara (or Mora, Morana, Morena, Marzena, and so on). This Mara is a goddess of winter and death; she’s sometimes depicted as a beautiful girl with claws, and sometimes as a broom-riding crone.
Mara’s status hasn’t stopped her from ranking in the highly regulated German top 100. And in recent years, the highest profile figure by the name might be child actor Mara Wilson, the engaging star of the movie version of Roald Dahl’s Matilda.
You might also overlook her negative associations when you look at her ranking. Mara is that elusive name – normal, in step with fashion, but never among the most popular picks. She first appeared in US Top 1000 in 1950, peaked at #539 in 1990, and fell to #756 in 2009. But that’s not a clear rise and fall; instead, Mara has bounced between the mid-500s and the mid-900s since the 1950s.
If you’re looking for a name that is simple, global, and has some depth without being at all common, Mara might be the choice for you.