The baby name Mae packs serious style into a mere three letters.
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.
Lucy Small says
My 4 month old daughter is Mae with the middle name Harper. We loved it for it’s simplicity and sassiness. I think it’s cute on a little girl, but strong and feminine for when she grows into a woman. I live in the UK and yes it is popular as a middle name, but have yet to meet another little girl with it as a first. I prefer Mae to May as I think it stands alone better as a name without being associated with the month or a word. Mae rocks!
Mae Harper is SUCH a stylish combination – love it!
I love Mae. I love the simplicity of it. Besides Mary, what other names could you use to ‘ get to’ Mae if you were going to use it as a nick name?
I’ve heard it for Margaret, Mabel/Maybelle (I’ve heard these two said differently, MAY-b’l and may-BELLE) and Marie before. Presumably Mara would work too.
I like both Mae and May and have a May-born daughter, but over in the UK May/Mae has become almost ubiquitous as a middle name (along with Grace and Rose) so we didn’t go for it. There’s also a LOT of hyphenated -May/Mae names around in England and Wales such as Lily-May or Darcy-May. So certainly lots of popularity that perhaps isn’t reflected in the charts.
Mae is extremely popular here in Wales at the moment – it is the Welsh spelling of the more usual May.
Mae is my middle name! I like it. It’s unusual. It was my great-great-grandmother’s name, and I’d like to continue to pass it on as a middle name for a daughter if I have one. There’s an actress in her early 20s named Mae Whitman who’s been on Arrested Development and in a few movies. I find it interesting that people use it as a first name. It’s a little short for a first name, but it’s sweet and fun.
I agree – Mae is a name, May is a month. To complicate matters, I was also born in May, but my mom thought her due date was at the end of April, so that had nothing to do with it. They weren’t all that accurate back in the early 80s, I’m afraid!
I do like Mae – she’s surprising to hear on a child today, but fresh and interesting, too. It’s a lot of mileage out of three little letters!
C in DC says
My grandmother’s middle name was May and my mother’s is Mae. If we hadn’t used my last name as a middle name, we probably would have used one of these as Lydia’s middle name.
I love this name – has the perfect mix of sweet & sassy. But I had such a hard time finding a middle name that had any kind of flow (We use amily names as middle names, which limits things) – it just seems more natural as a really adorable middle name.
Love it! This one of the FEW names my husband and I agree on, but we don’t agree on whether it should be a nickname or the given name.
Anyways, it’s a crisp and sweet at the same time, lovely.
I think Mae is a great name. Sweet and sassy. I know of one new baby with the mn Mae, but, more unusual, I just met a 20-something mom at my daughter’s play school named Mae. She is gorgeous, petite, blonde…just how I picture a Mae. It seems like such a cool name on her, I’m sure she’s the only one she ever knew under 80!
Charlotte Vera says
I find this name gorgeous. When I was eight I named the most beautiful doll I owned Mae because I wanted to make sure that her name was special (a lot of my other dolls ended up being named Jackie). Also, I LOVE The Age of Innocence!
How sweet! Love that you had Jackie, Jackie, Jackie – and Mae. 🙂
I do like Mae as a middle name; one of my aunts had the double name Cleta Mae until adulthood when she’s been just Cleta.
Mae also makes me think of Madonna in A League of Their Own, whose character Mae told reporters, “It’s not just a name, it’s an attitude.”
I forgot about that quote. Thanks, Joy!
I’ve been waiting impatiently for this. Thank you so much! 🙂 We’re using Mae as a second middle name for our baby who will hopefully come any day now. There’s a grandmother on each side of the family with this middle name, and one passed away during my pregnancy, so it has a lot of sentimental value.
I do think it’s more unpected as a first name, and I like it there too. I’ve considered Matilda nn Mae, but I’m too attached to Maud. I could never really decide if I preferred May or Mae, but Mae is the family spelling. I think Mae works better with our adjective/noun surname too. Mae seems fiestier and May more elegant.
Congratulations! I didn’t realize you were so close to the big day. What a lovely, lovely choice and a nice way to honor loved ones, too.
Whitney Gigandet says
I love Mae 🙂 It’s simple, sweet, and a bit spunky! For me, it conjures up images of a sassy little southern belle wearing a flowy white dress and her hair in pigtails!
Mae is my grandma’s name. She changed it from Marianna in the ’30’s to be more trendy! Sad to say, it doesn’t work well with our last name or I would have used it as a middle.
I think Mae is a sweet name. I usually see her as a middle name when searching through BA’s, but I found a Mae Beatrix the other day that I thought was a great name.
I don’t know why, but Mae’s never rocked my boat. I don’t mind it & there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just not doing anything for me. It’s more of a middle name type of name, personally. On the upside, it is feminine without being frilly
I do LOVE Maia/Maya & like Mia. I’m really feeling Pleione, though.
It’s actuallyquite funny, I really like the name Marie, but it’s common here as a FIRST name. So, Marie as MN for me isn’t the super-huge trend. It’s funny because I always got ‘Marie’s filler’ on forums.I do understand why, though I always found it ironic
Lady Gwyn says
I had a great-great aunt named May, and I always thought that Mae would be a good middle name to honor her. I don’t think I would ever use it as a first name, it seems to slight for a first name for me. But it could make a cute nickname for some of the longer Mary names. I love it as a middle, and will probably use it as such.
British American says
I like Mae a lot. It would have been in a my favourite girl names in 2005, but it doesn’t work well with our last name.
True about having to spell it out – but the shortness of it does make that not such a huge deal.
I think this is also a perfect choice for the daughter of a mixed Japanese/Chinese and white background; could even be spelled Mai or Mei if they wanted to really honour their Asian roots.
Mae is lovely. It brings up thoughts of May, but does seem more like a name… plus Mae West is pretty cool! Had we gone with the name we had chosen and leaned toward for more than half of my pregnancy with my daughter (Isadora), Mae would have been her middle name – it felt like it softened the feistier first.
My only small issue with Mae is that it is a spelling variant and that means having to correct May to Mae repeatedly. But, it’s only three letters, so spelling out M-A-E doesn’t have quite the same onus as spelling out other such spelling variant names.
Overall Mae packs a lot of character into 3 letters and I like it!