Thanks to RockingFetal for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
Two powerful trends meet in the baby name Mae. It’s a vintage charmer. But it’s also a nature name. File it with Alice and Dorothy and other names from a century ago. Or put it alongside modern favorites like Willow and Sky.
The result is a name that feels both traditional and storied, but also bright and energetic.
THE MERRY MONTH
The month name comes from the Latin Majus, derived from the Roman earth goddess Maia. There’s also a minor figure from Greek myth, one of the Pleiades, who shares the name.
It became mai in French, and filtered into English as May – the fifth month of our calendar year.
And if you hear Mae, and find yourself whistling “Strolling Through the Park One Day,” well … the 1884 song is a long-standing classic.
MARY and MARGARET
As a given name, though, Mae owes less to the month, and more to classic girl names.
It’s easy to imagine Mabel shortening to Mae. And smooshes like Annamae appear sometimes.
But mostly the baby name Mae comes from Mary and Margaret. The sound isn’t quite there, but the letters are.
1930s star Mae Clarke was born Violet Mary Klotz; Mary Jane West became an icon when she dropped her first name for this nickname.
The month of May is dedicated to Mary in the Catholic Church, reinforcing the connection between the two.
TECK and WEST
Speaking of West, she’s forever remembered for her “come up and see me sometime” line. Uttered in the 1933 movie She Done Him Wrong, West starred opposite then-newcomer Cary Grant. The film earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. It also made a mint at the box office. Mae West became a mega-star.
But if Mae West counts as Hollywood royalty, the name has ties to a real queen, too. Princess Victoria Mary Augusta Louise Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes of Teck would marry the future King George V of England in 1893. Her granddaughter is Queen Elizabeth II. Victoria Mary was called May as a child, and the nickname stuck.
WELLAND and PARKER
Fictional bearers of the name abound.
Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel The Age of Innocence introduced the tortured Newland Archer and his sweet society bride, May Welland.
Madonna played tough-as-nails Mae Mordabito in 1992’s A League of Their Own. The sweet little girl in The Help is called Mae Mobley Leefolt.
There’s Peter Parker’s sweet Aunt May, who has gotten younger and cooler with Marisa Tomei in the role. With Spider-Man movies going strong, we’ll surely hear even more of the name.
It’s a common double name, too. Think of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” or Anjelica Huston’s character in Prizzi’s Honor, Maerose. (Huston won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the 1985 role.)
And, of course, it’s sometimes a surname. It could come from the same roots as above – Mary or Margaret, or the month itself. But it might also be derived from Matthias, or a handful of other names starting with the right letters. The most famous bearer of the name might be Louisa May Alcott. That middle comes from her mother, born Abby May. Louisa’s youngest sister was called May; she’s the basis for Little Women character Amy, an anagram of the family name.
BY THE NUMBERS
May names abound. Plus, Mary and Margaret have a long history of use. All told, it’s tough to tally up exactly how popular this name might really be.
The numbers tell us that both the baby name Mae and May have been popular over the years:
- Mae charted in the US Top 100 from 1880 right into 1920. It left the Top 1000 after 1969, only to return in 2010, and climb, slowly and steadily, in use. But it remains beyond the Top 500, currently at #548. Everyone knows the name, but relatively few parents are choosing it – at least not as a first.
- May was nearly as popular, remaining in the US Top 100 into 1901. It left the Top 1000 after 1962. And with just one appearance – in 1982 – the name has remained relatively obscure.
Both spellings have risen modestly in use in recent years, though the -e ending remains far more familiar.
OPTIMISTIC NATURE NAME
With a short, bright sound, the baby name Mae is both stylish and restrained.
But the associations with springtime lend it even more energy. There’s an optimism to the green and growing season.
If you like your names short, sweet, and spirited, this one might belong on your list.
What do you think of the baby name Mae?
Originally published on March 15, 2010, this post was revised substantially and re-posted on May 6, 2013, again on August 3, 2019, and again on April 20, 2021.