Luna is hot, and Phoebe is cool.  How ’bout this one?

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.

Dutch merchant Abel Tasman arrived in New Zealand in 1642, and British explorer James Cook visited in 1769.  By the early 1800s, colonization was underway.

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.

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About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I went to high school with a girl named Marama, I always thought it was a pretty name. She said it MA-ruh-ma. A as in cat.

  2. It is definitely not outlandish here in NZ. Most kiwis would know a Marama. The pronunciation is difficult for me to write down because I’m not sure how to write some sounds, but this is my best shot Ma-rah-ma, but the “r” is rolled. Hopefully someone who is better at writing pronounciations will be along soon to do a better job.

    It is a lovely sounding name to my ears. I had no idea it was originally masculine. I have only ever met/heard of female Maramas

    1. Thank you, March – that’s helpful. I’m imagining the emphasis is on the middle syllable – ma RAH ma. Is that right?

      1. I would not pronounce it with the stress on the “rah”. All the syllables have fairly equal stress when I pronounce it. But, if anything, the stress would be on the first “Ma”.

      2. It’s pronounced MAH-dah-mah. The rolled r is sort of like a soft d, as in shudder. The tongue barely touches the roof of the mouth.

  3. Lovely choice – it doesn’t actually look that nice written down, but when you say it aloud it sounds amazing. And it has the word “mama” inside it, which reminds you of the moon again.