She’s an intriguing place name and a poem by Tennyson, too.

Thanks to Katheryn for suggesting Mariana as Name of the Day.

First, one of my (increasingly common) disclaimers: Katheryn suggested Marianna, but the single-n version is more common, though both rank in the US Top 1000.

Likewise, there are three legitimate origins for the name:

  • Most of us probably view Mariana as a mash-up of Mary/Marie/Maria and Anna/Ana;
  • Similarly, the name can be seen as an elaboration of Marie, via the French diminutive Marion/Marian;
  • Marius, a Roman family name, could’ve inspired Mariana as the feminine.

The first famous Marianas were royal. Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III married Maria-Anna of Spain and they bestowed the name Mariana on one of their daughters.

Mariana went on to marry Philip IV of Spain – her uncle! She became queen, and the regal moniker has been in use ever since. (Sadly, Mariana’s son, Charles II, suffered from a host of maladies brought on by generations of inbreeding and would ultimately be the last Hapsburg ruler of Spain.)

Less than a century later, Mariana Victoria of Bourbon married King Joseph I of Portugal. They named one daughter Maria, and another Mariana. Maria went on to become queen of Portgual – and mother of a Mariana herself.

Other notable bearers include:

  • Early 19th century English travel writer Mariana Starke;
  • Puerto Rico’s Besty Ross, Mariana Bracetti. She stitched a flag during the 1860s independence movement. After they failed to overthrow Spanish rule, the flag was adopted by the municipality of Lares;
  • Mariana Pineda was a heroine of the Spanish resistance. Arrested for her work, she chose death rather than naming others. Her reputation grew after Federico Garcia Lorca penned the biographical drama Mariana Pineda;
  • The name has Latino flair thanks to several actresses, including Mexican telenovela star Mariana Levy Fernandez and Brazilian actress Mariana Ximenes;
  • Romanian soprano Mariana Nicolesco lends an operatic – and Eastern European – edge to the name;
  • Marianna Pineda was a 20th century American sculptor best known for the eight-foot bronze statue of Queen Liliuokalani in front of the Hawaiian Capitol.

Some parents may have been inspired by Tennyson’s 1830 poem Mariana. A minor character in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, Tennyson expanded on Mariana’s story. He also broke Mariana’s heart, leaving her single at the poem’s end. The Bard was kinder, reuniting her with her intended.

As for the map, when Spain colonized a group of Pacific islands, they named them the Marianas after that first Queen Mariana. In the 1870s, the Mariana Trench was identified; over the years, scientists concluded that it is the deepest part of the ocean.

This last piece of Mariana’s story lends her a romantic flair. The Trench is home to curious deep sea life and the islands boast their share of unique creatures, including the Mariana fruit bat. In the Pixies’ alt-rock hit “Wave of Mutilation,” they sing “Could find my way to Mariana.” The name takes on an almost mythical aspect.

With nicknames aplenty – Mary, Marie, Anna and even Mia – plus classic roots, Mariana is a strong choice for parents hoping for something feminine yet distinctive. As of last 2007, Mariana ranked #177 and Marianna #754. That’s far from obscure, but less common than many similar choices.

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. Hooray! I feel like a rock star.
    I like Mariana, but I’d still choose Marianna. However, I think I may have decided Marianna has too many syllables for the first slot. I am keeping it in mind for a middle name, now.

  2. My friend named her daugther mariana without knowing the baby meanings. She said its sound nice..

  3. That’s funny, Emmy Jo — a close friend of mine is Isabella and her sister is Marianna. They’re Italian, so I suppose it makes sense.

    I quite like Mariana. She was on my list for quite awhile before I replaced her with the more sedate Marianne — the latter makes a better middle name, I think. I didn’t know it was place name, though; that certainly lends it an air of mystique. I think it’s very lively, though. It’s a great choice!

  4. I love Measure for Measure, so Mariana definitely appeals. I think she’d make a great sister for Isabella (or Sophia or Gabriella), especially if the parents want something that sounds both English and Spanish.

    It’s funny you should have written about Mariana today. I just finished a post on Isabella-alternatives, and Mariana was the last on the list! 🙂

  5. I love royalty names with history, and this name definitely has that! I’m not crazy about the name itself, but would be tempted to use it anyway, because of its associations. On the right little girl, I think it would be very charming! Good choice of name for those wanting something familiar but not on the top 10.

  6. 177!?! Wow, that’s a lot more popular than I’d thought!

    I like Mariana, it looks pretty and sounds equally so. I hardly ever hear it, even in my large Brasilian community, wonder why? Mariana is pretty, feminine and stylish. Really lovely. Not for me; I suffer from an overload of Mar- names in the family and Marilyn is my choice from them, but one I would not mind seeing far more often. Mariana’s lovely! 😀

  7. It’s all right, but too many syllables! I think I’d rather use Marina – even if it’s unrelated, the sound is similar.

  8. I love Mariana (and Marianne) and had no idea it ranked that high. I like that it is undeniably feminine without being plain nor frilly. Add to that that I’ve always been a sucker for just about any variation of Anna.