She’s an enduring classic, a name with ancient roots and a great meaning.
Thanks to SoPeJo for suggesting Margaret as our Baby Name of the Day.
Margaret was a Top Ten pick from 1880 through 1939. Nearly anyone would consider her a classic. And yet, at #187 in 2011, she’s fading from use. It isn’t that we’ve given up on classic names – Katherine and Elizabeth remain popular. But Margaret, somehow, isn’t at the top of our lists lately.
Too bad, because she has a great story. In Greek, margarites is the word for pearl, ultimately from an older Sanskrit or Persian word. In Latin, she became Margarita, and a given name. Margarita remains in use in Spanish and Russian.
An early saint gave her a boost. Margaret of Antioch was the daughter of a pagan priest, and a convert to Christianity. In an act of teenage rebellion, Margaret retired to a quiet life in the countryside and refused marriage. For her disobedience, Margaret was tortured.
This is where the story becomes incredible: during her torture, the story goes, Satan appeared in the shape of a dragon and swallowed Margaret whole, but the cross she wore allowed her to escape from the belly of the beast, unscathed.
Odds are that her story isn’t true – at least that part about the dragon. But she appears, dragon and all, in medieval bestseller The Golden Legend. Gory and spectacular, it was a collection of saints’ stories. The archbishop of Genoa, Jacobus de Voragine, put together the original version. Translations and copies followed.
Not only were people all over Europe reading about Margaret, it was also the era of the Crusades and a fascination with the East. Combine the two, and no surprise that a saint’s name associated with Antioch caught on. If today Margaret sounds sensible, at the time she must have seemed glittering and exotic.
With a growing number of girls named Margaret, nicknames evolved: Meg, Peggy, Greta, Madge, Maisie, Maggie, Margot, plus variant Margery – which was actually the common vernacular form of the name.
Other saints Margaret followed, and many a royal has answered to Margaret, starting with the eleventh century Margaret of Scotland, an Anglo-Saxon princess who landed in Scotland after the Norman conquest.
Other notables include:
- Queen Margaret I of Denmark
- Tons of writers – Margaret Wise Brown, Margaret Mitchell, Margaret Atwood
- Anthropologist Margaret Mead
- Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher
Some famous Margarets are shape-shifters. Margaret “Peggy” Hookham became the legendary ballerina Margot Fonteyn. Margaret Hyra went to Hollywood and became Meg Ryan. Maggie Smith and Maggie Gyllenhaal are both Margarets, too, and Maya Angelou answered to the French form of the name: Marguerite.
Which brings us to Daisy. The French word for the flower is marguerite, thanks to a comparison between the flower and the pearl. Marguerite de Navarre, sister to the future French king Francis I, a skilled diplomat, accomplished writer, and friend to Erasmus and da Vinci, used the daisy as her personal symbol. So did Margaret of Anjou. An even earlier link comes from the Oxford-educated monk and poet, John Lydgate. His Temple of Glas expressly links Margaret and daisy. So does French writer Jean Molinet. After centuries of reinforcement, the Margaret/Daisy connection is solidly established, making the delicate Daisy a playful nickname option.
Overall, she’s serious and smart but rich with playful nicknames. She’s an alternative to Charlotte or Madeline. If you’re seeking an enduring classic that isn’t often heard today, Margaret could be the answer.