She’s pretty, she’s dainty and she’s a little bit misunderstood.

Thanks to Laura for suggesting her darling daughter’s moniker as today’s Name of the Day: Marisa.

Marisa keeps company with a handful of monikers like Alyssa, Megan and Kayla that are perhaps best considered modern twists on enduring classics. While it is easy to dismiss each of them as names of recent coinage, they link back to Mary, Alice, Margaret and Katherine – choices deeply rooted in the historical record.

Her roots are in Italian and Spanish, as a contracted form of names like Maria Louisa, Maria Luisa or even Maria Lisa. It’s also possible that she’s simply an elaboration of Maria. While English nicknames are usually shorter than the original, in plenty of languages, a diminutive form is as long or even longer: Chiara becomes Chiariana; Sara becomes Sarita.

Others speculate that the name comes from Maris, as in Stella Maris, a title for the Virgin Mary meaning “star of the sea.” While this Marian link seems logical, given the enduring popularity of the name Maria – and the need to distinguish between many Marys – the first and second explanations are far more likely.

All roads lead back to Mary, a name with disputed meaning. While the most common attribution is from the Hebrew Miryam, or bitter, some suggest that the ancient Egyptian word for love – mr – and beloved – mry – are more likely sources. Some sites even blur sources and tell readers that Marisa means something like “sea of bitterness” – that’s quite a stretch.

Since Maria and company have been in use for generations, Marisa may have been informally used for years. She first surfaces as an independent given name in the 19th century.

Marisa debuted in the US rankings in 1956, and peaked at #146 in 1994. Today she’s falling fast to an almost obscure #515. Variant spelling Marissa entered the charts a few years later, in 1963. She reached a high of #53 in 1994, and today still ranks #133. Marisa may be the original, but Marissa is now the dominant form – probably influenced by Melissa, Jessica, Alyssa and other “ss” names for girls.

Marissa has been worn by many a starlet and fictional character. Some modern mamas may’ve been influenced by Marissa Cooper, Mischa Barton’s character on the smash hit teen drama The O.C. But the best known Marisa is probably Oscar winner Marisa Tomei. After beginning her career on As The World Turns, she nabbed the statuette for Best Supporting Actress in My Cousin Vinny. Her character – Mona Lisa Vito – was smart, sassy and made us take notice of the actress’ given name.

Today, Marisa and Marissa are both fading and can feel a bit dated. But since they were never as common as Amanda, Jessica and Alyssa, neither version seems completely unthinkable to bestow on a daughter today. If you’re looking for a twist on Mary, it’s certainly one to consider.

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. Another, that’s a great (horrible) story! Wonder where that wicked little Marisa is these days?

    I think I’d group Marisa/Marissa with Jessica – it’s enduring, but it’s not the best name to consider at this moment. But that’s not a position I can support – other names from the same era, like Melissa and Amanda, just sound more classic to my ear.

    Laney, I agree with you, though – far better Marissa than yet another Madison!

    For me, I like Marisa best as a contracted form of Maria Louisa. If I were inclined to use it, I’d probably put Maria Louisa on her birth certificate and use it as a nickname.

    1. As it turns out, Abby, Marisa from grade school grew up and had a son named…Ethan. To think we have anything in common is odd.

      1. That is bizarre! I’ve had that happen with good friends, but usually we have so much in common it is no shock that we like the same names.

  2. I love Marissa! I don’t hear it very much anymore, and it’s a way better name than Madison or Emily; It’s alot classier and prettier. Marissa is on my favorites list, but my boyfriend doesn’t really care for it, so I can’t use it.

  3. My parents gave me Marissa as a middle name. I have always hated it. It might be because Marisa was the girl in elementary school that blackmailed me for saying a dirty word – she would take my lunch dessert every day for two years. She was a dirty little byatch and I never liked her despite the blackmail. So I have forever hated my middle name. When I got married I dropped it. I’m 30, so that’s when Marissa was in the middle of its popular streak, I guess. Hwever, I was named for a great-uncle who had died – and my parents were going to name me Marissa as a first name, but when I was born three weeks early, they forgot, and used my original middle name as my first and Marissa as my middle. Anyway…I’ve babbled enough.

  4. Marissa does seem a bit dated to me . . . I can think of a handful I know who are either in their teens or twenties. Maybe in another generation or two I’ll be able to hear this one fresh again.

  5. funny, I like Marisa (ma-REES-ah) but dislike Marissa (ma-RISS-ah). But that may be because I’m surrounded by Spanish speaking pwople these days. Marisa sounds rich & lovely and overall, warm. I like her very much, indeed. She’s not something I’d use for me (sounds funny with my Scots surname) but I can admore it on Laura’s (Ho! ASnother Laura, Hi there! 😀 ) and other people’s girls. And admire, I do. 🙂