Margaret: Baby Name of the Day

Margaret: Baby Name of the Day

Classic Margaret feels rock-solid traditional and just a little on the uncommon side.

Thanks to SoPeJo for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.

CLASSIC MARGARET

No question that Margaret belongs with classic girl names. It offers regal and saintly bona fides to rival even Katherine and Elizabeth.

Right through the 1930s, the name appeared in the US Top Ten reliably, along with Mary and Anna, Helen and Ruth. But the name hasn’t cracked the Top 100 since 1989. At #127 in 2018, it’s familiar and used with some frequency – but it’s no William or James.

That might equal a great opportunity.

SAINT MARGARET

The future Saint Margaret of Antioch was born the daughter of a pagan priest sometime in the late 200s, converted to Christianity, and defied all expectations by refusing marriage.

As was the custom of the day, the defiant daughter faced torture. Here our story takes a turn towards the fantastic. Satan, legend tells us, appeared in the shape of a dragon and swallowed the girl whole. But the cross she wore allowed Margaret to escape from the belly of the beast, unscathed.

Odds are most of this story is sheer fancy – certainly that bit about the dragon. But medieval favorite The Golden Legend relates the whole thrilling tale.

In the Crusader era, parents were curious about all things eastern – including Antioch, now part of modern-day Turkey.

Today it feels like a traditional, even sensible choice. But more than a thousand years ago, I suspect it seemed glittering and exotic.

Even if the dragon-defying maiden of the ancient world wasn’t real, many other saints by the name followed. That includes Saint Margaret of Scotland, born an English princess, married to King Malcolm III, and known as the Pearl of Scotland for her charity and piety.

DAISIES AND PEARLS

The Scottish saint’s nickname didn’t come out of the blue.

In Greek, margarites means pearl, ultimately from an older Sanskrit or Persian word.

The fame of the original saint spread the name throughout Europe. In French, it became Marguerite. And, because the daisy flower was compared to a pearl, marguerite became the French word for daisy.

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.

They probably didn’t dream it up themselves. A handful of earlier writers made the connection.

NICKNAMES

Centuries of reinforcement make Daisy a playful nickname for Margaret.

Other options evolved over time, too. There’s Meg and Peggy, Greta, Madge, Maisie, Maggie, and Margot – to name just a few.

Margery is simply the medieval English version of the name, just like Cecilia became Cecily and Maria turned into Mary.

TWENTIETH CENTURY NOTABLES

Plenty of famous women have worn the name, from Britain’s Prime Minister Thatcher to authors Atwood, Mitchell, and Wise Brown. Anthropologist Margaret Mead comes to mind.

Many aren’t immediately obvious. Peggy Hookham re-invented herself as legendary ballerina Margot Fonteyn. Meg Ryan started out Margaret Hyra. It’s the given name of Dame Maggie Smith, the Unsinkable Molly Brown, Game of Thrones alum Maisie Williams, and plenty of others. Maya Angelou started life as Marguerite; Maggie Gyllenhaal, as Margalit.

RETURN TO THE TOP?

Plenty more Margarets – real and fictional – keep this name in the spotlight. There’s comedian Margaret Cho, for one. Many of us grew up with Maggie Simpson, and maybe Judy Blume’s tale of teenage angst, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. The Marvel Universe has given us the formidable Agent Carter, and while she’s called Peggy, we know this is her real name. The same is true for Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time, and too many more to list.

And then there’s Queen Elizabeth II’s flamboyant younger sister. She appears in Netflix series The Crown, played in recent seasons by the scene-stealing Helena Bonham Carter.

Of course, that list pales to the many real-life women with the name. After so many years’ use, odds are that your family tree includes a Margaret or two, too.

Lately the name has staged a quiet comeback. Maybe it’s an alternative to wildly popular classics like Charlotte and Eleanor. Maybe it’s the draw of so many nicknames. Or perhaps it’s simply time for this traditional pick to return to the spotlight. It’s climbed from #178 in 2008 to #127 in 2018.

But for now, it’s still a classic on the slightly less common side.

What are your favorite classic names for girls? Would you use a nickname for Margaret, or do you like it best in full?

Originally published on December 4, 2012, this post was updated substantially and re-published on February 13, 2020.

Margaret: Baby Name of the Day

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28 Comments

In Britain this classic name reputedly dipped in popularity owing to the politically controversial Mrs Thatcher, and was voted by readers of a tabloid newspaper one of the top unsexy names for girls! I’m glad to see that it’s making a well-deserved comeback. I’ve loved it ever since reading as a child about England’s brave medieval queen consort Margaret of Anjou. I love the Meg nickname. Marguerite is also pretty – quite delectable. Meg, Margot or Daisy seem the obvious nicknames, though a Marguerite at school was lucky enough to retain hers in full.

My name is Megan, and my family mostly calls me “Meg.” I’ve always really liked both my name and nickname – despite how common the name was for girls born in the eighties.

Though I don’t care for the name Margaret (I think it sounds harsh), I love Marguerite, and I am also really fond of many of the Margaret nicknames and derivatives – particularly Margot/Margaux, Greta, and Daisy. Marguerite is high on my list, and if we have a girl this spring, she might just have this name.

This is my mother’s name and I’m afraid she has always hated it – and its nicknames! I believe it’s the ‘grit’ sound at the end that she dislikes. Personally, I really like Meg and Maggie, but she has gone by Midge since her late teens. We’ve never met another Margaret who goes by Midge, has anyone else?

An anonymous poem I found at straightdope.com under “why is peggy a nickname for Margaret?”:

In search from A to Z they passed,
And “Marguerita” chose at last;
But thought it sound far more sweet
To call the baby “Marguerite.”
When grandma saw the little pet,
She called her “darling Margaret.”
Next uncle Jack and cousin Aggie
Sent cup and spoon to “little Maggie.”
And grandpapa the right must beg
To call the lassie “bonnie Meg.”
From “Marguerita” down to “Meg,”
And now she’s simply “little Peg.”

What a lovely site you have! It was with great trepidation that I read your post on Margaret. I’m happy to see that it has had a warm reception 🙂
~Meg
P.S. I’m happy to be a Meg— people ALWAYS assume Megan, though! “what’s your name?”
“meg”
“nice to meet you Megan!”
Ack!! I don’t get it, lol 😉

My grandmothers name was Margaret but she went by Marnie.

With so many nickname possibilities I would think it would be as popular as Elizabeth. I love this classic name.

I’ve always loved Margaret, but my mom hates it. 🙁 We still have it on our list as a middle name though. I would use the nicknames Maggie [my favorite] and Daisy [my late gramma’s favorite flower]. It’s my husband’s great-aunt’s name, and there are LOADS of Margarets farther back on my family tree.

There’s a Marguerite in my family tree–she was a physician and ran her own hospital. I would love to have a little Marguerite nicknamed Margo! It is just the right combination of classic and spunky.

Our baby is Margaret (nickname Maisy), and it suits her perfectly! Everyone’s first question is whether it’s a family name. No one ever spells Maisy right, and not because they think it’s Maisie either. Usually they just guess a random phonetic spelling like Mayzee. They also mix it up with Macie. People also just assume we use the nickname Maggie.

Our other top name contenders were Louisa, Helen, Cecily and Paloma.

I love that Margaret is super well-known and affiliated with so many strong, important, successful women, but it’s also not overly popular now. I love that my Margaret will be able to try out different nicknames as she grows up. (We considered Meg and Margo.)

There was a girl in the year below me at school called Margaret and I remember how I used to think her name was so stuffy and old-fashioned but that’s what I love about her now: a true underused classic. I wonder how long it’ll take before she starts being used again?

I firmly like Margaret. I think she’s lovely, warm & strong. The Margery form is a family name for me; one of my very favorite cousins is a Margery/Margie.
And Marguerite/Daisy was very nearly Josephine/Josie’s name. I still think Marguerite & Josephine would make fabulous sisters, too! 😀

I would love to use Margaret! (Especially with the nickname Daisy) If only the husband would cooperate. *Sigh* As it happens, I am a descendent of Margaret of Scotland. It pairs ever so nicely with my Caleb and Annabel, too. We still have Virginia Sue as our top name should we ever have a girl, but I plan on bringing up Margaret regularly until that event. 🙂

Margaret is the only name I have loved since childhood. I remember very clearly telling my father that I would name a daughter Margaret when I was 7. It has so many great nicknames, I don’t see how he doesn’t go for it. Maggie is out for us (my parents’ dog), but there is still Meg, Daisy, Maisie, Molly, Greta, Gretchen, Gretel, Margie, Metta, and so many more!

My grandmother was a Margaret (Margie.) I love the name, but I hate how the middle GAH syllable sounds in my “Fargo” accent… Mahr-grit is fine, but my pronunciation of Margaret with 3 syllables drives me nuts. (I have the same problem with Benjamin.)

My first-born is Margaret (born in 2012). Before she was born, we settled on the nickname Mamie for her and tried to call her that for a few months but it never felt right. When she was about 4 months old we gave up and started calling her Maggie. She still sometimes goes by Maggie but she mostly goes by the full Margaret. It wasn’t what we had imagined but she’s a precocious kid with a big personality and the full, grand name fits her perfectly. We love it but we are starting to hear it more often.

My 8 year old granddaughter is Margaret Fiona. She is called Maggie. It is the perfect classic name for her and I have already given her a pearl necklace
Her younger brothers are William and Samuel. Classic is definitely in!

There are plenty of literary and movie Margarets too. Margaret makes me think of Dennis the Menace’s nemesis, while my favorite is Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time.

We visited an old southern cemetery yesterday and one of the prominent family plots there were several ladies named Margaretta in one family. I thought it was a lovely form of Margaret/ Margarita

Thanks for this! I didn’t know anything about the saints part of the name’s history, though I have always loved the idea that my Grandma Margaret was a pearl. All her female grandchildren (except me, as I have an older sister) have Margaret for a middle and they all really like it, it is nice to carry a little bit of your family around with you!

Love it! We debated using Margaret as a first name years ago, but my mom is Margo, and my mil is Mary; we thought it was too confusing. We have Fiona Margaret instead. My sister is Amelia Margaret, my mom is Margo Lee, and my grandma was Margaret Isobella.

Also, I’m amused you used my full name, Katherine Elizabeth, as your evergreen examples. My family is certainly into family classics!