Parliament Palace, Budapest, Hungary
Parliament Palace, Budapest, Hungary; Image via Wikipedia

She’s a Hungarian import boosted by a starbaby-turned-star.

Thanks to Jen for suggesting her middle name as our Baby Name of the Day: Mariska.

Mariksa Hargitay was born famous, the daughter of actress Jayne Mansfield and former Mr. Universe Mickey Hargitay.  Dad was born in Hungary – his given name was Miklós. All three of the couple’s children have names that would fit right in in Budapest: Miklós, Jr., Zoltan, and Mariska.  Her full name is Mariska MagdolnaMary Magadelene.

An English speaker’s impulse might be to say ma RIS keh.  That’s miles away from the Hungarian.  Hargitay favors mar ISH kah.  It’s not quite faithful to the original – the vowel sounds are different – but it balances the exotic and the expected nicely.  You can hear her introduced on Ellen here.

There’s also a cheerful little video clip on YouTube featuring a children’s song with the lyrics “Hopp Juliska, hopp Mariska.” Listen closely and you’ll hear the name is closer to maw RISH keh.

Despite her mom’s status as a Hollywood icon, Hargitay’s career took years to develop.  There was lots of television work – you might’ve spotted a younger Mariska on Falcon Crest or ER.  But her big break was in 1999, when she was cast as passionate victims’ advocate Detective Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.  Twelve seasons later, the show is still going strong, and Hargitay has won an Emmy for her portrayal of Benson.

Her character’s name – Olivia – has climbed steadily since Law & Order: SVU debuted, rising from #20 in 1999 to #3 last year.  But Mariska has yet to make an impression on American parents.  Perhaps it is her similarity to the fading Marissa.  Nancy tells us that 63 girls received the name in 2009.

Some of those parents may be looking for a Hungarian heritage choice that is both familiar and clearly tied to their roots.  Mariska is an elaboration of Maria.  It’s not the only option: Marika, Mariaka, and just Mari were all in use at one point. But she’s not currently in the Top 100 in Hungary now.  (The #1 name?  Jázmin.)

You may even have ancestors who arrived at Ellis Island via the Mariska.  Nancy uncovered a list of ship names from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

When I went searching to see if Mariska was in use in other languages, I stumbled on this page: Mariska & Pahat Sudet. So file Mariska under Finnish heritage choices, too.  (Through a series of twists, Finnish and Hungarian have quite a bit in common with each other, and very little in common with other European languages.)

Overall, Mariska is just the tiniest bit exotic.  She’s vaguely familiar thanks to Hargitay’s success, but her status as a foreign spin on Mary would make her accessible regardless.  The only possible hurdle is the pronunciation, but it isn’t insurmountable.

If you’re looking for a name that conjures up Budapest, Mariska is one to consider.

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. I have the same first and middle name “Mariska Magdolna” and it floored me to hear someone else, especially someone famous had the same name. I was born here in the United States, but my parents came over from Hungary in 1950. I actually go by the first name Marie since it was easier for me when I attended school.

  2. I love Law and Order SVU! Actually, my husband confessed to me last night that Christopher Meloni is one of his favorite actors and that THAT’S why he had wanted to name our son Elliot.

    Mariska is pretty. I went to middle school with a girl named Marika.

    1. Oh, I LOVE it. I tossed out Elliot in deliberations with my husband, and he said, “that guy from Law and Order? No way!” And that was a teeny bit of the reason I liked it too.

  3. I’ve always heard/pronounced Mariska/Mariszka as mar-EESH-kah. In my Parenting class in high school we did the usual project where we had dolls to carry around for a week, pretending they were our real children — I named mine Mariszka Margaret [she had a second /M/ middle name, but I can’t remember it now] — I called her Miszka [MEESH-kah]. I really adore this name.

    1. Panya, I’m guessing that Mariska is in use elsewhere in Eastern Europe, and that she is pronounced differently. Love the idea of Miszka as a short form!

  4. I’m confused. Are those rankings the Hungarian rankings? I just didn’t think Mariska was #3 in the US.

    Such a pretty name, though. I’ve always had a teeny little girlcrush on Mariska Hargitay

    1. Good catch, Kayt! No that was my mistake – I meant her character’s name, Olivia. In the US, Mariska isn’t even a blip.

      1. Haha! I was confused too. I had to re-read that a few times to figure out what it meant.

        Great post as always, Abby!

  5. In the movie Van Helsing, one of Dracula’s brides is given the name “Marishka,” I believe spelled this way. I have always thought it personified the vampire beautifully: seductive, exotic, and downright sexy. I have a hard time picturing it on a baby for the same reason, but goodness I love it all the same!

  6. This is such a pretty name! I have a colleague whose husband is Hungarian and they used this name for their now 3 year old daughter. They spelled it Marishka to ensure people pronounce it correctly. I think either spelling works. Also, they just had baby #2 and named her Irina. Lovely sibset!

  7. Yay! Thanks for doing this one! It’ll always be “ma-RIS-kah” to me because that’s how mom first heard it, and so called me (we are definitely NOT Hungarian)… The pronunciation is one thing that holds me back from passing it on. When I was little I thought it was a weird name, but I’ve grown to see the beauty of it.