She’s an affectionate form of the evergreen Mary, a frilly, vintage choice that might just work in 2012.
Thanks to Katherine for suggesting Marietta as our Baby Name of the Day.
Americans typically shorten names to arrive at diminutives, while romance languages are more likely to elaborate. Plenty of girls’ names take -ette and -etta – which can be the tiniest bit confusing as we borrow those names in the English-speaking world. Strictly speaking, Julie is the formal name and Juliette the nickname, but an American girl would have the opposite experience.
In Italian, Mary becomes Maria and Marietta is one possible variant, along with Mariella and Marianna and Marilena. Chances are that many a Marietta would’ve been Maria on her baptismal certificate.
But Marietta did have a good run in the US, charting in the Top 1000 from 1880 through 1964. It’s tempting to attribute her popularity to the operetta, but Naughty Marietta comes along later. Perhaps her nineteenth century popularity was just part of the Mary-Marie moment. Looking at 1883, Mary ranked #1 – and would for decades, plus:
- Marie was at #53
- Marion #105 and Marian #264
- Maria #139
Plus, Margaret and Martha and Marjorie were all stylish, a wave of traditional Mar- names. Even Marianita snuck into the Top 1000.
Now back to the operetta and the film adaptation of Naughty Marietta. Rida Johnson Young and Victor Herbert told the story of an Italian countess who runs away on a ship of young French women, destined to marry the colonists in New Orleans in the year 1780. Marietta ditches the ship, spends part of the tale disguised as a boy and part operating marionettes. (I couldn’t confirm it, but I suspect a Mari– name appealed, given the marionette aspect.) There are pirates, also in disguise, and love stories that ultimately carry the day. All ends well, and the operetta was a smash hit when it opened in 1910.
Bumps in Marietta’s use correspond roughly to revivals of the musical as well as the 1935 film adaptation. Jeanette MacDonald played Marietta, pointing to another clue about the name’s success: Loretta and Annette and Jeanette were popular picks of the day, and names like Claudette – another Hollywood appellation – as well as Henrietta and Rosetta were in vogue, too, to say nothing of Top Ten Betty.
She’s been out of favor for years, though, eclipsed by a new wave of -ette appellations. Say Marietta today, and most of us probably think of Marietta, Georgia. The capital of Cobb County has history aplenty. It is assumed that the town’s name was borrowed from Mary Cobb, the wife of Thomas W. Cobb, an early nineteenth century Georgia senator and member of a prominent family from the area.
Circa 2012, the French Mariette might fare very well, a sister for Vivienne and Elodie. But Marietta has some charm, too, a Southern city as wearable as Savannah with a deliciously frilly, throwback vibe.