Jasmin’s week continues with Marama as our Baby Name of the Day.
Marama is the Maori word for moon, which is why she belongs in the company of Luna, Phoebe, Chandra, Selene, and other celestial names.
She’s also among the rarest of that set. After all, Maori isn’t a widely spoken language. The Maori are the Polynesian people indigenous to New Zealand. They have a lot in common with other Polynesian cultures and languages, but they were isolated from the 1200s into the 1600s.
You can guess the next part of the story. Native language and culture took a backseat to the newcomers’ language and culture. But Maori has made a comeback in recent years, and is now an official language of New Zealand.
So how did Marama travel from the night sky to the birth certificate?
Marama wasn’t just the moon. It was the name of a masculine god, married to the goddess of light. It must have been an interesting marriage – she would be awake while he slept and vice versa, right?
Prince Marama, a member of the royal family of Huahine in the nineteenth century, wore the name. And it has occasionally been given to men over the years. But Marama seems to be a feminine given name in the twentieth century and beyond.
Blame it on sound – Marama is close to Marianna and Mariam, names that are as traditionally feminine as you can imagine. Or blame it on the -a ending, which we associate with girls, even as Noah, Ezra, Asa, Koa, and a host of other names prove that it isn’t always so.
Marama could have caught on. Back in 1920, Edith Roberts starred in the silent film The Adorable Savage. It was based on a book by English writer Ralph Stock. Stock traveled to Australia, visiting Fiji and the surrounding islands. His excursions provided the backdrop for his fiction.
I’m not sure if the film is strictly faithful to the novel. Savage played a character called Marama Thurston. Miss Thurston has just returned to the family rubber plantation on Fiji after studying abroad. She has a suitor, but when Marama learns that she’s half-native, it causes a crisis. Can she marry her white, European beau, or should she consider the advances of the native ruler? After some unlikely plot twists, Marama’s choice is made and she lives happily ever after.
Presumably Stock met other women named Marama, and it seems to be used primarily for women in the twentieth century, including enough notable New Zealanders that it seems like it can’t possibly be an outlandish name there.
Actress Marama Corlett was born in Malta and trained with the Malta ballet – but her dad is from New Zealand. She might be the name’s best hope for broader exposure at the moment.
And why not? Besides her associations with the moon, Marama also means light – in fact, that seems to be the most common translation in recent years.
If you’re after something truly unusual that pays homage to New Zealand or Polynesian culture, Marama might be one to consider. With her similar sound to Mary and all of her related names, Marama is accessible and exotic at the same time.