About Names: Dr. Evans on “Mario”

The Iconic Mario (Photo by ReffPixels, CC-BY-4.0)

The Iconic Mario (Photo by ReffPixels, CC-BY-4.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his April 9th column, he discusses the name “Mario”.

Have you seen plumber Mario save the Mushroom Kingdom and Princess Peach from evil King Bowser?

On April 5, the animated film “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” based on Nintendo’s “Mario” video games, premiered. Mario, created in 1981 by game designer Shigeru Miyamoto for “Donkey Kong,” is featured in 256 games, becoming the best-selling video game franchise ever.

Mario is the Italian and Spanish form of Marius, a Roman family name so ancient experts are unsure if it derives from the god Mars or from a Latin word meaning “male.”

Roman general Gaius Marius (157-86 B.C.), husband of Julius Caesar’s aunt, reformed the Roman army, defeated foes in Gaul and North Africa, and was elected consul of Rome a record seven times.

The general’s fame led Americans to name sons Marius during the early 19th century Classical Revival, when towns were named Rome and Athens and babies named Virgil and Minerva. In the 1850 United States census, 234 men named Marius are listed.

Marius was well-used in Scandinavia. In the 1900 census, 120 of the 1,047 Mariuses were born in Denmark, and 84 in Norway.

Marius was also used in Germany and France. The most famous fictional Marius, Marius Pontmercy in Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel “Les Misérables,” fights for freedom on the Paris barricades and marries Jean Valjean’s adopted daughter, Cosette. Since Marius is even more egalitarian and compassionate in the beloved 1980 musical than in the novel, it’s surprising his name’s remained rare.