Will This Name Doom My Baby?


After years of trying, we are thrilled to be expecting a baby girl. I didn't think the naming would be hard ... I've always liked "Mallory" because it's cute, but not that common. But while looking up name meanings I was horrified to discover that it means "ill-fated young woman." Now I'm a little unsure.

- Ill-Fated Mom


Let's talk for a minute about the meaning of meanings.

Of course, none of us want our kids' names to mean something awful. But where did this idea come from that a name's "meaning" is some obscure Latin root you track down via twists and turns through Middle English and French?

What you're talking about isn't a meaning, it's a derivation. Mallory may derive from a French word meaning "unlucky" (nobody's quite certain). Unless that origin is part of our current language, though -- as in names like Destiny and Rose -- it's just a scholarly curiosity.

Think of it this way: If you look up the word "jerk" in the dictionary you might find it comes from an Old English word meaning "prepare." But if somebody calls you a jerk, that doesn't mean they think you're well prepared, does it? Now try asking the next dozen people you meet what the name Mallory means. My guess is you'll get more blank stares and references to the old sitcom "Family Ties" than derivations from Norman French.

So what does Mallory really "mean?" Well, it's a familiar English surname that used to be a rare male given name. Then starting around the 1940s, the soaring popularity of Valerie rubbed off a little on the rhyming name Mallory, tilting it to the girl's side. The name had sitcom exposure in the '80s, when other surname crossovers like Ashley, Courtney and Lindsay were also taking off. Yet Mallory never approached the popularity of those hits.

Today, that leaves Mallory in an enviable style spot. It's familiar, but not common. It feels classically feminine enough for traditionalists, but contemporary enough for more creative namers. People really like this name. That, to me, is more important than any scholarly derivation.

What do names mean to you? Share your experiences here. And if you have your own question to Ask the Name Lady, drop her a line!

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.