What popularized the baby name Mariah in the early 1990s?

Mariah Carey's self-titled debut album (1990)
Mariah Carey album

This post is ultimately about Mariah Carey, but, before we get to her, let’s start with some backstory regarding the name Mariah…

In 1941, the bestselling book Storm by author George R. Stewart was published. The book — innovative for its time — featured an extratropical cyclone as a protagonist. And that cyclone had a name: “Maria.” (A junior meteorologist in the story secretly gave female names to the storms he tracked.)

Stewart wished for the name Maria to be pronounced mah-RYE-ah (as opposed to mah-REE-ah), according to the book’s introduction:

Another little point — although I don’t really care particularly, still I always thought of Maria and pronounced the name in the old-fashioned English and American way. The soft Spanish pronunciation is fine for some heroines, but our Maria here is too big for any man to embrace and much too boisterous. So put the accent on the second syllable, and pronounce it “rye.”

The book "Storm" (1941) by George Stewart.
Storm” by George Stewart

A decade later, songwriting team Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe were inspired by the book to write the wistful ballad “They Call the Wind Maria” — which retained that mah-RYE-ah pronunciation. The song was featured in their musical Paint Your Wagon, which ran on Broadway from November of 1951 to July of 1952.

Nearly two decades after that, in late 1969, a movie version of Paint Your Wagon (starring Clint Eastwood) came out. In the film, the song “They Call the Wind Maria” [vid] was sung by Harve Presnell.

Several months later, in March of 1970, future pop star Mariah Carey was born in New York to a former opera singer (mother) and an aeronautical engineer (father). Her parents decided to name her after the song, but added an “h” in order to emphasize the nonstandard mah-RYE-ah pronunciation.

Carey kicked off her prodigious singing career with a string of #1 hits: “Vision of Love” (1990), “Love Takes Time” (1990), “Someday” (1991), “I Don’t Wanna Cry” (1991), and “Emotions” (1991). Her success on the charts popularized the baby name Mariah during the early 1990s:

  • 1993: 4,092 baby girls named Mariah [rank: 81st]
  • 1992: 4,711 baby girls named Mariah [rank: 74th]
  • 1991: 5,192 baby girls named Mariah [rank: 69th]
  • 1990: 1,103 baby girls named Mariah [rank: 259th]
  • 1989: 399 baby girls named Mariah [rank: 562nd]
  • 1988: 424 baby girls named Mariah [rank: 521st]

The name Mariah was one of the top 100 girl names in the U.S. from 1991 to 2001, and again from 2005 to 2011.

So, in a sense, the thousands of babies named for Mariah Carey in the early 1990s actually have a fictional storm from the early 1940s to thank for their name.

And that’s not all. The book Storm also “helped to popularize the idea of naming hurricanes,” so it had a hand in naming Barbara, Hazel, Andrew, and all the other babies with hurricane-inspired names.

What are your thoughts on the name Mariah?


P.S. In the Broadway musical Hamilton, the first name of Alexander Hamilton’s mistress Maria Reynolds is pronounced mah-RYE-ah. Regarding this pronunciation, playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda cites historian Ron Chernow, who stated in his book Alexander Hamilton (2004) that Maria’s name was “probably pronounced ‘Mariah.'”

One thought on “What popularized the baby name Mariah in the early 1990s?

  1. Interesting. I knew a ma-RY-a (Maria) when I was a kid. She was the grandmother of one of my sister’s classmates and went to our church. She hated being called ma-REE-a. I would’ve guessed that she was born in the ’30s, but this makes me wonder if she’s a little younger than I thought.

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