Mary growing rarer? That’s just great!

Mary growing rarer? That’s just great! Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

If present trends continue, the name “Mary” could soon become almost extinct. We’re told that Ethel, Sheila, Garrett and Herbert are already “extinct” Christian  names because they are no longer recorded in the top 100 names given to babies.

Just over 100 ago, according to, more than 11,000 girls in Ireland were baptised or registered as Mary. By 2017, only 64 girls in the whole country were named Mary. Girls are now more likely to be called Grace, Charlotte, Emma or Lucy.

Is it a bad thing that Mary is now so comparatively rare? I would say no: Mary was too frequently used in the past. Families often reached for Mary for rather lazy reasons: because it was a family name or because it seemed acceptable and respectable.


Yes, some families did so out of genuine Marian devotion. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin was widespread and sincere. Rosaries were recited and novenas addressed to Our Lady. My mother’s own favourite prayer was the Memorare (“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary…”) and the Hail Holy Queen, at the end of the Rosary, was invoked as a prayer of great poetry and feeling.

But for many youngsters, a name so venerated as an ideal was too much to live up to. The notion that if you were called Mary you were expected to be outstandingly good could be almost a provocation to be exceptionally bold. I’ve known many a Mary, not excluding myself, who reacted against such expectations.

Like many another Mary, I was given my forename just because it was my grandmother’s. I daresay it pleased my grandma for the short time she lived after my birth that I should bear her name, but it never really fitted me.

At school, half the class was called Mary – in one form or another – and I think it diminished our sense of individual personhood. As in a Russian play, children were called by their patronymics: Mary O’Reilly, Mary Fogarty, Mary Hynes…

That which is common is commonplace. That which is rare is valued. If Mary is now becoming rare, perhaps it will be more honoured, more respected. It will never really be extinct: it will just be elevated to a higher plane than the everyday, the customary, the ordinary.


  • In a BBC Radio 4 Analysis documentary, Andrea Catherwood seemed to assume that a united Ireland – on the cards post-Brexit – will bring a more liberal all-Ireland state. It might also bring a stronger conservative movement to the whole country. Anything could happen! We are living in a historical time.


Flaunt that bump, Meghan

The announcement that the Duchess of Sussex – popularly known as Meghan – is pregnant is a happy occasion of good news. The headlines, particularly in Australia – where Harry and Meghan are presently touring – boom with congratulations and joy and whoop to see Meghan’s ‘baby-bump’.

I welcome the greater candour and openness we have towards pregnancy these days, and the way in which pregnant women are delighted to display their ‘baby-bump’, now a common phrase. In the past, couturiers designed clothes to disguise, as much as possible, the fruitfulness of a woman’s body in pregnancy.

Now, young women flaunt the ‘baby-bump’ triumphantly. Good for them.

And it’s interesting how swiftly the media talks about the baby within the bump. Nobody refers to Meghan and Harry’s child as “a clump of undifferentiated cells”, or “the products of conception”, phrases used about unborn life elsewhere. There is already a “royal baby”, not a “royal foetus”.

Royal babies, like all babies, are not just good news: consciously or unconsciously, they’re pro-life news.