Saint Mark's Basilica Facade, Venice, Italy
Saint Mark’s Basilica, Venice; Image by Eustaquio Santimano via Flickr

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.

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.

You May Also Like:

What do you think?


  1. 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.