He’s ancient, Biblical, literary, and had a great run in the 1960s.
In honor of Charlotte’s husband, our Baby Name of the Day is Mark.
Marcus was the name of noble Romans in the pre-Christian era. There was Mark Antony, known for his military prowess, political will, and tragic ending with Cleopatra. A few centuries later there’s philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius, ruler of the Roman Empire in the second century. It’s said that Marcus was likely derived from Mars, the god of war – but maybe not. Others have posited an old Etruscan personal name. For what it is worth, even Mars has an earlier meaning, likely related to mas – male.
If it is a little tricky to say what Marcus precisely meant, there is no question why Mark has such a long history of use:
- Mark the Evangelist first appears in the New Testament, as the author of the Gospel of Mark, then traveled to Alexandria, establishing the church in Africa. Some contend that these accomplishments are too many for a single figure and suggest that the Biblical Mark is a different person;
- Regardless, the Saint Mark who died in Alexandria is the inspiration for Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice. The legendary landmark houses the remains of the saint, pilfered by Venetian merchants in the ninth century. The current church dates to the late eleventh century. Saint Mark’s Square remains one of the most famous public spaces in the world. Can’t visit? Take a panoramic tour;
- The tale of Tristan and Isolde couldn’t be without King Mark of Cornwall. He’s the one who sent his nephew, Tristan, to fetch his future queen, the Irish princess Isolde. There was a sixth century Cornish king by the name, but the line between fact and fiction is blurry.
The king raises an interesting point – Mark may have more than one source. While the month of March is generally associated with the god Mars, too, the old Welsh name March relates to horses. It appears that March would’ve been closer to the king’s name in his day. In Latin, March became Marcus and so he’s been King Mark in English for eons.
Then there’s Mark Twain, the pen name of Samuel Clemens. A young Clemens worked as riverboat pilot, a prestigious and demanding career in the pre-Civil War era. When the war broke out, traffic on the rivers plummeted, and Clemens became a newspaper reporter – and eventually, an American literary trailblazer. Clemens’ days on the river stayed with him. “Mark Twain” was a term pilots used to indicate the water was two feet deep or greater – and therefore safe to navigate.
Clemens’ pen name points to one additional origin for Mark: from the Old English mearc – boundary, or more specifically, the indicator of a boundary. If you’re running a race, you’re on your mark; if you’re a con artist, your intended victim is your mark; if you’re good at what you do, you can leave your mark; and a marksman is one who aims at a target.
Mark – and Marc and Marco – all have a long history of use, but Mark’s best days are behind him. He entered the US Top 10 in 1955 and remained there through 1970. Today he’s more likely to be your dad – or even your grandpa – instead of your son.
I know a Mark in his 40’s and then about three or four in the 12-15 age bracket. It’s a pretty popular name here in Scotland and for that reason doesn’t appeal to me much at all.
Charlotte Vera says
When choosing his name my Mark’s parents were trying to decide between the name they eventually settled on and James. Both names are singular-syllable NT names and Mark won out because they were afraid a James would eventually become Jim later in life. The name Mark was out of the top 25 by the time my husband was born, but it was still definitely in the top 50. His inclusion in my family followed the family trend of men-with-biblical-names, broken only once my sister married her husband, Ryley.
I’ve always liked Mark’s snappy sound. Probably because of the NT aspect and that I associate it with siblings named Matthew and Michael, but Mark feels completely ageless. As a middle name it would help balance out “softer” sounding first names like Julian, Ezra and Lucian.
Mark is rather uninspiring. Nothing wrong with it, just not exciting. Like most everyone else mentions, I have known several (some are Marks, some Marcs, and some Marcuses)… I think of Marks and Spencer (although admittedly that is Marks with an s at the end), but the retailer parallels Mark, the moniker, for me: the store is a kind of standard, not too exciting, just a solid, regular sort of store, if not a bit dated.
C in DC says
I grew up with a dozen Marks. It’s one of those middle-of-the-road names for me. I don’t have any strong associations with it and think it has a timeless quality to it.
May I suggest the name Hartley/Hadley?
Sarah A says
I’m not really partial to Mark/c since it seems like I knew so many growing up. There was also one Marcus and one Marco at my school. I agree with pp that Mark is too much like a noun for my taste, but Marcus seems to fit right in with awesome -us enders like Julius.
I like Mark but have a slight preference for Marc, simply because it doesn’t run into the problem of being a noun. I prefer the short sweetness of Marc to Marcus. Also, I knew a Marcus as a kid who got nicknamed Mucous so I’d want to avoid that possibility. 😛
My Uncle Mark is well into his sixties, and I can’t think of a single other one I knew growing up. Marcus, on the other hand, seems to have some life left in him, considering the current interest in the “us” ending.
I love Marc, but Mark is my cousin. We used to “mark” at him, like a dog’s bark, to make fun of him who made fun of us (stick & stone he used to call us). He hated it and we loved it. My cousin Pamela is married to a Marc as well, bringing both versions into the family. I’d use Marcus and call him Marcus but no more Marc/k please. It’s a lovely, strong name but I’d still rather John.
Nook of Names says
Mars himself might be Etruscan, so it all starts to get a bit academic!
I do agree that it’s likely that the name of the Cornish King Mark comes from the Middle Welsh march (pl. meirch), from Common Celtic *marko- ‘horse’, although it is also possible it was simply the Latin, and a historic King Mark was a Marcus Such-and-such-ius. It is an undeniable fact that the Celtic nobility under Rome became Romanized, gained citizenship and took Roman names. It’s possible that these Romano-Britons chose Marcus because of its similarity to *Marko-/March, but March itself was clearly rare. I only know of one medieval attestation — the myth of March ap Meirchion — and he might never have really existed!
(Also worth noting that the English March and Welsh/Cornish March are pronounced completely differently — ‘ch’ in Welsh is like the ‘ch’ in the German ‘ich’ and Scottish ‘loch’, and the ‘r’ is more rolled.)