Mario is, obviously, a very common Italian name. It struck me the other day though, that it’s curious that it’s a male equivalent of Maria. And Maria of course, has an English equivalent in Mary, but there’s no English form of Mario.

I thought at first that it might be similar to the fact that Jesus isn’t used in English: a kind of unspoken taboo forbidding the use of the male form of the name of the mother of Jesus. But then why is Mary such a commonplace name in English?

But then, there are, in a sense, two forms of Maria, and that’s close to the heart of the matter. Both Mario and Maria (as well as their equivalents in other Romance languages) are derived from the Latin male name Marius.

But, Maria was also the Latinised form of the name of Jesus’ mother, which would have been, in Aramaic, מרים, or, in the Latin alphabet, Maryam or Miriam. This became anglicised as Mary via Latin and the similar Greek Μαρία. And because Christianity was a strong cultural force for such a long time in English-speaking countries, Mary became a relatively common name.

Marius, however, didn’t have anyone even close to having the clout of the mother of a messiah to popularise the name enough for it to enter the English language, so it never really moved beyond the Romance languages. Nintendo’s Mario is pretty popular though, so perhaps soon we’ll see parents who grew up on his adventures between the 80s and now naming their kids after him.

2 thoughts on “Mario

  1. It’s an interesting question. As a linguist, I would note that male English names rarely, if at all, end in a vowel sound like Italian words and names.

    It should be noted that Japanese, like Italian, is also a language with final vowels as its main form. While Mario is a possible but unlikely Japanese name in form I have yet to meet even one Mario. In Japan it would be flagged as foreign sounding (I live in Japan).

    Nice thought-provoking post.


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