She’s an international spin on a New Testament name.
Thanks to Nicole for suggesting Marta as our Baby Name of the Day.
Marta has a nicely pan-European appeal. She’s popular in places as diverse as Italy, Poland, Spain, and Sweden, and is a recognized name in many more languages. In English, she’s Martha, as in Washington.
In the New Testament, Martha is sister to Lazarus and Mary. She was among those Biblical choices that caught on post-Reformation. Marta became a staple in the US, ranking #16 in 1880, and charting in the Top 100 through 1965.
Drop the ‘h’ and we’re back at Marta, which is closer to the Aramaic original, and means lady. Marta seems sleek, European, unexpected.
She was also royal in medieval Scandinavia:
- Princess Margrethe Eriksdatter of Denmark married King Birger of Sweden in 1298. She was known as Marta – suggesting that the name also has history as a contracted form of Margaret. The happy couple hosted a Christmas banquet in 1317, a party that ended with the deaths of both of Birger’s brothers.
- In sixteenth century Sweden. a second Marta played politics. The sister of Queen Margaret, sister-in-law of King Gustav I, she plotted to depose Gustav’s son, King Eric XIV. Her machinations put her own nephew on the throne instead.
In the US, but Marta was boosted by a 1931 song. Arthur Tracy was born in the Russian Empire, but he became a star on American radio as the Street Singer. His song, “Marta, Rambling Rose of the Wildwood,” likely explains why Marta first charted in the US Top 1000 in 1932.
The middle of the twentieth century was good for the name:
- Italian actress Marta Abba made her Broadway debut in the 1930s.
- Budapest-born Marta Eggerth made movies in Berlin and Hollywood, and also appeared on Broadway.
- I Remember Mama was a tale of Norwegian immigrants in San Francisco. It started out as a novel by Kathryn Forbes, and eventually Rodgers and Hammerstein turned it into a musical. Mama was Marta Hanson.
- 1960s sci-fi series Lost in Space featured Marta Kristen as daughter Judy. I love the story of how she got her name: Kristen was born in Oslo, and adopted by an American couple. They chose to name her in honor of the social worker who helped them complete the adoption process.
- Do you remember the names of the children in The Sound of Music? The von Trapps were, in age order, Liesel, Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt, Birgitta, Marta, and Gretl. (In real life, they were Rupert, Agathe, Maria Franziska, Werner, Hedwig, Johanna, and Martina.)
In more recent years, Marta might read Latina. Arrested Development included a lovely Colombian-born character called Marta Estrella, a love interest for more than one of the Bluth brothers.
She definitely points towards the small screen – Marta Kauffman is known for creating Friends, as well as working on lots of other television projects.
Marta left the US Top 1000 in 1986, and was given to just 55 girls in 2012. She’s a rarity getting rarer.
And yet, Marta could make a stand-out name for a daughter in 2014. She’d be right at home with Emma and Clara, but far less popular than either of those names. If Cora and Marlo can seem stylish nowadays, why not Marta?