First came Sadie. Elsie and Maisie followed. Could this nickname name be next?
Thanks to Nat for suggesting Mamie as our Baby Name of the Day.
Mamie: Mary and Margaret
For many years, Mary and Margaret reigned as dominant names. Saints and queens answered to Mary and Margaret, along with countless ordinary women and girls, too.
No surprise, then, that nicknames abound for both. The names even share a few nicknames, like Mae. Mamie belongs in that category, too.
A handful of women tie this name to the middle of the twentieth century.
- 1946’s film noir Gilda included a song titled, “Put the Blame on Mame.” Rita Hayworth famously sang it in the movie.
- Mrs. Eisenhower – born Mamie Geneva in 1896 – served as First Lady from 1953 to 1961. Known for her signature bangs and affection for the color pink, she instantly brings to mind a sort of nostalgic 1950s image.
- Because she signed her contract with Universal Studios on the very day of President Eisenhower’s inauguration, Joan Olander was given the stage name Mamie Van Doren. Van Doren played femme fatale roles through the 1950s.
- Then there’s Auntie Mame, first brought to life on Broadway in 1956, based on a novel published the year earlier. Much of Mame takes place in the 1920s, including the Great Depression, but the musical was a midcentury smash hit.
It’s the given name of the landlady on 1990s sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun and a BFF for Betty White’s character on Hot in Cleveland more recently. While the shows are more recent, the characters aren’t young.
Mamie: By the Numbers
Here’s the big surprise: look at the numbers, and it turns out that Mamie ranked in the US Top back in the nineteenth century! While the data is less reliable – adults self-reported when claiming social security numbers many years after their birth – it suggests that plenty of women were once given this name.
It peaked around 1890, remained in the Top 100 through 1912, and then left the Top 1000 after 1966. That’s not counting, of course, all of the women named Mary who might have preferred this as a nickname.
We’re not seeing a meaningful uptick in the name’s use for new births – at least not yet. Around two dozen girls have received the name every year for the last decade, with a high of 33 in 2005 and a low of 18 in 2007. Last year’s 22 seems just about right.
Mamie: Next Generation
Meryl Streep named her daughter Mary Willa, but calls her Mamie. Now Miss Gummer has launched an acting career of her own.
It might make a great nickname for names starting with the May sound: Mabel or Mae, perhaps. And it substitutes for Sadie, Maisie, or many similar retro names that have garnered more attention in recent years.
Or perhaps other parents will follow Meryl’s example. This fantastic article from September 2015 profiles a mom who did just that.
She notes that some paused and asked if it like mammy, a variant of mommy-mummy used in some English-speaking countries to refer to moms. It’s also one that brings to mind Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar-winning turn as Scarlett O’Hara’s fiercely loyal mammy in Gone With the Wind. The latter association, with ties to slavery and racism, would make the name problematic.
Except it isn’t mammy at all. It’s may-mee. If Jamie and Amy can top the charts for girls, there’s no reason this name can’t return to its former well-used status.
What do you think of Mamie? Would you use it as a stand-alone name, or does it work better as a nickname?
Mamie is my grandmother’s name
Yes, the “mammy” connection is too strong for me as well. It does seem to sear with racial connections.
Mamie! About six years ago, I met a fun, pretty, spunky Mamie in her late 20’s. Basically the person everyone wants to be friends with. For her, it was a nickname for Mary as well (we will never know how many Mamies are really out there!), but she had always gone exclusively by Mamie since childhood. This was in the South. She was from a wealthy, well-educated, Southern family, so when I hear the name Mamie, it just screams fun and Southern and sweet. I do get disappointed when I bring it up with other people. The “mammy” connection is too strong for some people, even sometimes if they don’t realize it! I’ve mentioned Mamie to multiple people who categorize it as a name with certain racial connotations, even if they can’t put their finger on why.
Leah, that’s interesting. I’ve just looked – and looked and looked – to see if I could find a fictional mammy named Mamie and came up empty. Delilah, yes. Chloe, obviously. But Mamie? Nope. Can’t find one. It’s just a generally similar sound, which is probably why no one can explain why it makes them uneasy …