Back in the 80s, Madison the mermaid splashed her way onto the streets of New York and fueled the last-names-first trend. At the same time, on the small screen, a similar choice was gaining notice of her own.

Thanks to Jess for suggesting today’s Name of the Day: Mallory.

Odds are that you’ve seen an episode of Family Ties, which followed the life of the Keaton family on NBC from 1982 to 1989 and launched the career of Michael J. Fox. Justine Bateman played Mallory, the sweet slacker daughter. If the writers ever mentioned the rationale for using such an unusual moniker – especially when their other kids went by Alex, Jennifer and Andrew – the reference isn’t readily available.

Regardless, it was a good decade for the name. While the very feminine Jennifer, Jessica and Amanda remained firmly at the top of the heap, other trends were gaining speed. Popular two-syllable, ends-in-y choices, often borrowed from the boys, included Ashley, Lindsey/Lindsay and Whitney. Last names like Jordan, Kendall, Darcy, Taylor and of course, Madison, all appeared in the Top 1000.

Mallory debuted at #334 in 1983, a year after Family Ties first aired. Three years later, she peaked at #86. While the name has dropped steadily since then, it remains far from obscure – #247 in 2007.

We suspect that Mallory has failed to reach the heights of similar names because of her unfortunate meaning – literally. Originally an English surname, it has French Norman roots – evolving from Malorie to Malory to today’s most familiar version. Any one with a smattering of high school French can unpack the etymology. The bit “mal” is attached to words not unlike the English “un” – heureux is happy; malheureux is the opposite. In Old French, maleüré would have translated to ill-omened, and so the commonly given meanings for the name are luckless, unfortunate, unhappy.

One of the best known bearers of the surname was early 20th century mountaineer George Mallory. He perished on his third attempt to peak Everest. Unfortunately, no one knows if he made it to the top or not. And, of course, there’s Sir Thomas Malory, the 15th century author of Le Morte d’Arthur. While little is known of Malory’s life, his name appears in the historical record with some frequency – he was often arrested and imprisoned.

Those two figures aside, there have been plenty of perfectly well-adjusted bearers of the surname. While we’re not overly focused on the meanings listed in baby name dictionaries, we’ll admit that this one – combined with the ill-fated explorer’s tale – gives us pause.

Still, we suspect that there will be a steady stream of parents willing to overlook that defect. The name has remained visible as Mallory Dent, a first-season character on the CW’s Veronica Mars and the faerie-fencing Mallory Grace in children’s book series, The Spiderwick Chronicles.

While you won’t hear it in use internationally, it also has the feel of a logical choice in the US. Mackenzie is past her moment, but Delaney is hovering at the fringes of the Top 200. And with some parents considering choices like Devony and Romilly, Mallory seems relatively conservative.

On balance, we find Mallory a reasonable option for parents who like the idea of a surname-inspired choice, but want something that reads strongly feminine. She’s never been a chart-topper, so chances are that your Mallory won’t share her name with many others – but it will feel nicely familiar.

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 take the meanings of names, like a grain of salt. If it sounds pretty, there you go. I named my daughter Mallory because of its uniqueness and it sounds ok rolling off be tongue. I dont even think i researched the meaning while pregnant. Ive researched my name and my first name is goddess of the moon and always had an owl perched on her shoulder. My middle name also is another godess… the Roman goddess of war or something. That same goddess is Athena in Greek mythology and guess what, she also always had a owl perched on her shoulder too.

  2. Oh sweet Mallory! I love the name so much. Partially, because my name is Lori and the second syllable of her name is mine. My oldest daughter, and second born, is named Mallory Addison Galloway and she is 11. She has blond hair and blue eyes and is the only Mallory in her elementary school. She is earns A’s in school and the meaning of her name isn’t even close to who she is a young lady.

    She gets called Mal, Mal Mal, Mal Gal, Ma-Lori, Mally, Moe, Mally Moe. I heard her fuss once about being called Mal Mal and my sister Amanda reminded her that she was called Aman-DUH in the third grade. Suddenly Mallory was alright with her name again.

  3. No I don’t really think I would re-name myself, I really enjoy the name Mallory. It is not to girly but still has a feminine feel to it. It’s not too hard to spell and being a visual person I find it looks very visually appealing. The only thing about Mallory is that it always sounds wired coming out of my mouth. Every time I say Mallory it just sounds odd, maybe that is just how everyone feels about their name but I always find it wired when people ask my name to say it out loud. It is very elegant but can also be fun and to me sounds very cheery. It is also not too short that you can’t have nicknames but not way to long that it never fits in the box to write your name. Mallory is not to common of a name I have never personally met one but have heard of about three my friends know, but somehow still feels familiar and not super wired. I actually never knew it had that meaning a book my mom had said it meant armour so that is what we always thought. It get a few nicknames but most people now a days just say Mallory. I’ve gotten: Mal, Mal-mal, Malaria, Mally, Mallypoopoo, Mal Pal. I actually have never been called Lory and never even thought to be called it. maybe I’ll try it some time.

  4. Another Mallory here 🙂 My great-grandmother (whose name was Florence) wanted me to be Florence with Mallory as my middle name, but I ended up the other way. My siblings are Meilena, Marshall, and Madelyn. I like that it’s not too common, I only know of two other Mallory’s, and I’ve lived all over the place. And while I’ve always wanted to change my name I’ve never come up with something else that feels right. As for nicknames, I get Mal-Mal or Mal, and from one friend ‘Malasaurus’. I like that my name isn’t too girly, and I find the history behind it interesting. There are so many names from the bible or with similar meanings, it’s nice to have something different, even if the actual meaning is negative.

  5. I used to absolutely hate my name. I loved it until my brothers and I started looking up the meaning of our names. Kevin = handsome beloved. Matthew = gift of God. Mallory = ill-omened. Distraught, I looked for the alternate meaning and fund army counselor. An ill-omened army counselor next to the handsome beloved baby boy and the gift of God first born son. Yeah, I was young and jealous and thought it was completely intentional. I also got upset when I watched Family Ties for the first time after finding out that’s where my mom heard the name and saw that Mallory wasn’t anywhere near being the sharpest tool in the shed. But it’s been years since I thought of that, this post just reminded me. But I like my name. When people yell ‘Mallory’ ninety-nine percent of the time they’re talking to me. I don’t really get called Mal. I did in middle school though. It was pretty funny actually. I had a teacher pull me aside after hearing someone call me that and asked if they were “bullying” me. Don’t know how she didn’t realize it was a nickname for Mallory but I got a really good kick out of it. Most of the time people just call me Mallory. My extended family has called me Mal-Mal since I was little and I still get called that by them. I get called Mal Pal more frequently than I do just plain old Mal. But yeah, just wanted to share that being called Mal isn’t going to happen all the time nor should you think of it as something bad – especially your own daughter.

  6. My Mallory is 8 years old. She likes it because it’s different and she doesn’t know any other Mallorys. I don’t concern myself too much with the meaning. I also love the name Cecilia, and that means blind. Although I grew up with Family Ties, I wasn’t thinking about that when I named her. As for having a Mallory and then Jennifer, I think that could happen. I know a family with their first daughter named Tabitha and second Emma.

  7. Personally, I absolutely love the name Mallory for a girl. It sounds sweet, strong and intelligent, but in no way frilly or too girly. The name rolls off your tongue so nicely, I’d love calling a future daughter of mine by that name. I also have a friend called Mallory who means alot to me and who has really been an influence on me, and so the name paints an appealing picture in my mind. Yes, the meaning may not be appealing, but the sound of the name is far more important to me. I also wouldn’t go with any alternate spellings, but again that’s just personal. Also, I’m not from the US, so it will be a really unique name too.

    Mallory – I just love and adore the name 🙂

  8. I’m indifferent about my name. I’ve only ever met 2 other people with my name and though it is unique, it just feels wrong hearing it come from my own mouth. Awkward. I also never knew my name meant unlucky. :C And I already knew Mal means ‘bad’ in spanish. Overall I think it’s a cute name for someone else I would know, but my name has always been something weird to me.

    My middle name is Denise. I never liked being called ‘mal’ because I felt it was too predictable. Instead everyone called me ‘mallo’. Now that I’m older I like when people call me ‘mal’ and I can tell who’s been my friend for a long time verses newer friends.

    Joke nicknames include:

    It’s one of those names you can make into anything.

    1. I know exactly what you mean, whenever I say my name it sounds so odd. I don’t mind that my name means unlucky or that my nickname ‘mal’ means bad in french and spanish, I think it’s kinda funny 🙂