Marlo Thomas That GirlShe’s a twentieth century invention with some retro swing.

Thanks to Amy for suggesting Marlo as our Baby Name of the Day.

The rise of this name is traced to a single woman, but before we get to her, there’s a mystery.

Despite a general consensus that Marlo was invented in the 1940s, Marlo was in use in the 1910s and 20s.

Mostly for boys.

My best theory is that Marlo has existed as a sometimes-seen spelling variation of the surname Marlow or Marlowe.  It’s also easy to imagine her emerging as a contraction of names like Mary Louise.

The surname comes from a place in Buckinghamshire, from the words mere – lake – and lafe leavings – in other words, a bog.  Raymond Chandler used the surname for his fictional detective, Phillip Marlowe, beginning in 1939.

But it was a pair of actresses who put her on the map.

First, there was Marlo Dwyer – born Wilma.  Dwyer graduated from chorus girl to bit player in the 1940s and 50s.  She never struck it big, but it is enough to explain an uptick in baby girls called Marlo in the 1940s.

Then there’s Marlo Thomas.

Born Margaret, she was called Margie and Margo growing up.  Margo morphed into Marlo when she couldn’t pronounce the “g” sound as a child.

Thomas was born into showbiz.  Her dad, Danny Thomas, was a comedian, and her family tree is dotted with performers and entertainers.  She was born in 1937, and at the age of 29 became Ann, better known as That Girl.  The ABC sitcom was the first to feature a single woman living alone and trying to build a career.

The show was a modest, steady success for several years, and so was the name.  She ranked in the US top 1000 from 1967 through 1977.  After the show ended, and Ms. Thomas moved onto other pursuits, the name faded.

A few other uses that you might think of include:

  • Mae West’s very last big screen role was 1978’s Sextette.  It was her character’s name.
  • It’s the name of a recurring character on Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta.
  • A minor Days of our Lives character wore the name, too.

There’s been an uptick in high profile babies answering to versions of the name in recent years.

  • Soap opera actor Thorsten Kaye went with the -lowe spelling back in 2007.
  • In 2008, comedian Rob Corddry welcomed a daughter named Marlo Stevenson, a little sister for Sloane Sullivan.
  • Blogger Heather B. Armstrong – aka Dooce – gave the name Marlo Iris to her second daughter, born in 2009, a little sister for Leta Elise.
  • Jason Schwartzman welcomed Marlowe Rivers in 2010.
  • Marlowe Ottiline was Sienna Miller’s choice in 2012.

The -w and -we endings seem influenced by Harlow, the trend-setting name chosen by Nicole Richie for her firstborn in 2008.

This one isn’t gone for boys entirely.  There’s a character on The Wire who answers to the name, and the surname forms should be equal opportunity.  But something tells me that the Marlo spelling seems feminine these days, more than the other possibilities.  Tally up all three options, and Marlo/Marlow/Marlowe would just edge into the US Top 1000 for girls, with Marloe sometimes heard, too.

If you’re after a retro, swingy, spirited, and thoroughly unexpected option for a daughter, Marlo is one that works.

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’m considering naming my girl Marlo, but i need a nickname, so im not sure! She has a big sister called Gemma, (gem, gems, gg, etcc.)

    1. Would you consider nicknaming her Lola, Lolo, or even just Lo? I’d call Gemma nickname-proof, so I wonder if the “nicknames” you’re using are more affectionate pet names, not something that she might use to introduce herself at school. Because Gems and Lola are all kinds of darling together …

  2. I’m really not sure if I’d ever use it, but I love Marlo! I’ve gone back and forth on which spelling I like the best, but I think Marlo is it. For now, at least. I love the idea of using her as a contraction for a first and middle name.

  3. My dad has a male cousin Marlow (65+ Canadian farmer) and my brother has an in-law named Marlo (southern bell type, although she pronounces it Mar-lou since it’s short for Margaret Louise.) I’m not ready to think of either spelling as particularly fresh, but they are both better than Harlow.

  4. I definitely prefer Marlowe for a boy [this spelling seems more ‘complete’].

    I’d suggest Marloes for a girl instead.

  5. Marlo as a given name doesn’t appeal to me, but I really like Marlo Thomas’ full name: Margaret Julia “Marlo” Thomas. With names ending-in-O being popular now (especially for boys), I think a little Margaret “Marlo” would be darling — and classic, yet unique. I MUCH prefer Marlo to Harlow.