He’s a Hollywood legend, but his first name is a little fishy.
Thanks to Jennifer C. for suggesting Marlon as our Baby Name of the Day.
The first one Marlon springs to mind is almost certainly the late Marlon Brando, known for bellowing “Stella!” and making you an offer you can’t refuse. He was named after his dad, Marlon Brando, Sr. The elder Brando was born in 1895.
Marlon Brando, Jr. started his career on stage in the 1940s and rocketed to fame in 1951’s film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire. He was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his turn as the brutish Stanley Kowalski. Three years later, he won the award for On the Waterfront, where he uttered the immortal line “I coulda been a contender.”
The fish that bedeviled Santiago in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea was a marlin. The fish gets his name from a tool used by sailors in ropework: the marlinspike. A marlin’s spear-like snout resembles the tool.
Marlin was the name of the nervous father fish who rescues his son in Pixar’s 2003 hit Finding Nemo. There’s also Marlin Perkins, host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom for more than two decades.
Despite his zoological overtones, Marlin appears to have a longer history of use than Marlon. Marlin first appears in US Top 1000 in 1884, and ranked every year from 1900 to 1990. Marlon only pops up in the US Top 1000 beginning in 1950.
As surnames, Marlon and Marlin are both considered variants of Merlin. Merlin takes us back to the sea once more.
Geoffrey of Monmouth took Welsh legends about a prophet and historical figure called Myrddin, and merged them with the tales of King Arthur. Myrddin probably lived in the sixth century; Monmouth wrote in the twelfth. Ever since, we’ve combined the tales of a powerful sorcerer with the stories of the legendary ruler. Monmouth transformed Myrddin into Merlinus or Merlin. The Welsh name referred to a sea fortress.
Merlin charted in the US Top 1000 every year between 1901 and 1969. Merlin Olsen, the NFL player turned actor, was apparently named after his mom, Merle – which takes the name in yet another direction, ultimately connecting to Muriel or Miriam.
Other Marlons include:
- Part of the original Jackson 5, Michael’s brother Marlon;
- Marlon Wayans, a member of another successful family in the entertainment industry;
- Since 1996, UK soap Emmerdale has included character Marlon Dingle.
Marlon is surprisingly international. He’s big in Germany, and you might hear him in Latin America or the Philippines, too.
Despite the success of Ava, Natalie, and Audrey for girls, Hollywood screen legends have not been a major influence for boys. With his two-syllable, ends-in-n sound, Marlon ought to sound stylish. Instead, he seems dated, possibly because a cluster of 1970s-born Marlons make him sound like someone’s dad.
Boys’ names tend to hold on for generations, so Marlon will likely remain in use. Whether he’ll be fashionable once more is hard to say, but his story is rich.