Small but mighty Mae packs serious style into a mere three letters.
Thanks to RockingFetal for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
All the Trends
Every generation embraces a few mini names, from antique Ida to current favorites Mia and Ava. But Mae falls into even more on-trend categories.
As a month, it qualifies as a nature name. But not just any nature name. May brings to mind spring, a season so hopeful and full of new beginnings that this almost counts as a virtue name, too.
It’s vintage, of course, but with that bright ‘a’ sound, feels right at home with Mason, Avery, and oh-so-many Aidens and Haileys and all of their sound-alikes.
If this name makes you sing “strolling through the park in the merry, merry month of” surely you’re not alone.
The month names comes from the Latin Majus, probably from the Roman earth goddess Maia. There’s a second figure, one of the Pleiades in Greek myth. It became mai in French and eventually filtered into English as we know it today.
The song, by the way, dates to 1880. Judy Garland sang it in 1940’s Strike Up the Band, but she’s far from the only one.
Mary … and Margaret
As a given name, though, Mae owes less to the month, and more to classic girl names.
It’s sometimes short for Mary and Margaret, and possibly Mabel, too. Smoosh names like Annamae are heard, too. 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 newcomer Cary Grant. The film earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. It also made a mint at the box office, and West became a mega-star.
But if the celebrity 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 Maes and Mays 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 currently. 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.
Here’s what we know, though:
- 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, making it a good balance between familiar and unlikely to share.
- 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.
Overall, Mae makes for quite the stylish – and restrained – choice. If you like your names short and sweet, this one might belong on your list.
Originally published on March 15, 2010, this post was revised substantially and re-posted on May 6, 2013, and again on August 3, 2019.