Three Times I’ve Run into a Human Being Named Marmaduke in the Wild

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A beautiful boy named Abrams. (Photo by Erin Campbell Smith)

According to every writer’s favorite website, the icomparable Behind the Name, it is possible that the name “Marmaduke” is derived from the Old Irish name Máel Máedóc. “Máel Máedóc” means “disciple of Saint Máedóc.” What does “Máedóc” mean? It’s a mystery (according to Behind the Name, anyway).

Traditionally, Marmaduke has mostly been used in Yorkshire. Here in the United States, the name Marmaduke is most associated with a big huge dog in a painfully unfunny comic strip. The idea of an actual human being named Marmaduke is, to say the least, a little bizarre. There was, apparently, a Downton Abbey character named Marmaduke, but I recall relatively little from Downton Abbey besides copious amounts of bloodshed, so I will just have to take the Internet’s word for it (I refuse to research anything related to Downton Abbey).

Still, I figured that, at some point, the name must have had some popularity in the U.S. As it turns out, not really. In fact, the name Marmaduke has never appeared within the top 1000 baby names in the United States since we began keeping data in 1880. To be clear, the name Junious was in the top 1000 names on-and-off from 1880-1921, but Marmaduke? Oh no. That’s just too out there.

But what about the bastion of Marmaduke’s popularity, Yorkshire? Yorkshire is in England, where it is pronounced “York-sure.” From what I can find online, the U.K.’s baby name data only goes back to 1904, and it only covers the top 100 names. So, Marmaduke could have been sort of popular at one point, I guess. But it’s safe to say that there were never as many Marmadukes running around as there were, say, Jameses.

Of course, many questions regarding the name Marmaduke remain. How did the eponymous comic strip’s creator, Brad Anderson, decide on the name for a Great Dane? Can you name a daughter Marmaduchess? How many Great Danes named Marmaduke are there out there in the world right now? May I pet them? Are there newborn babies out there named Marmaduke?

In an effort to answer these questions, I decided to keep track of how often I ran into the name Marmaduke in the wild. And not just any old instance, either — it had to be an actual human being named Marmaduke. Here are my results: three instances in which the name Marmaduke serendipitously appeared in my life and was applied to a human being instead of a Great Dane.

  1. In a university commencement program from the 1950s.

The thing that started this whole Marmaduke preoccupation was a university commencement program from the 1950s. I have recently started a new job, but my previous job was in a university’s archives. While skimming through old commencement programs in search of someone’s grandfather, I came across an actual human being named Marmaduke. It threw me for a loop, to say the least. An actual human being named Marmaduke? He had only graduated in the 1950s. He could still be alive. Heck, he could still be in the Chicagoland area. How many Marmadukes are out there walking around Chicago undetected? In all likelihood, not many, but maybe a few.

2. In the novel Night and Day by Virginia Woolf.

In August of 2019, I read Night and Day by Virginia Woolf. I don’t really remember what it was about. The writing was beautiful, but no one actively did anything. This, of course, is a common characteristic of Virginia Woolf’s works. That said, there was a character named Marmaduke.

Some may argue that this doesn’t count because Night and Day is a work of fiction and, therefore, the character of Marmaduke does not exist. Others will argue that this character never actually appears in the book — he is merely mentioned secondhand. In response to the first argument, I would quote Pablo Picasso, who probably definitely said this at some point despite there being no obvious written record of it: “Everything you can imagine is real.” In other words, as soon as something is thought of, it is real. Thus, if you can read Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day and picture a human cousin named Marmaduke, then Marmaduke is real.

As to the second argument: look, we’ve already established that there has never been a boatload of Marmadukes out running around, and I feel safe in saying that that number has only decreased as the years have gone by. If I want to include a fictional character who is only mentioned secondhand in a Virginia Woolf novel, then that is my prerogative.

3. The dating app Hinge.

Okay, the guy’s name was actually listed as “Marm,” but what else could that be short for? Marmalade? Schoolmarm? Smarmaduke? Do we think some blissfully happy parent looked down at their freshly born baby and said, “We’ll name him Marm. Just Marm.”? No. A blissfully happy parent looked down at their freshly born baby and said, “We’ll name him Marmaduke.” And that’s okay, because the United States does not have any naming laws.

That said, why would someone go by “Marm” instead of “Duke”? Had I really been dedicated to this research problem, I would have tried to match with him to find out. Unfortunately, I went, “Oh wow, a youthful Marmaduke. Not hot,” and swiped on. I wish I could say that, in the future, I will try harder to go on dates with any man named Marmaduke that I happen to stumble across, but I cannot make that promise. One, because most of the men named Marmaduke that I will stumble across will be, to put it nicely, outside of my age range. Two, because dating people is a lot of work. All I can hope is that, one day, an eligible bachelor named Marmaduke will come along and ask me to enter into a fake marriage so that he can inherit a recently deceased distant uncle’s fortune. After five years, we will divorce and split the fortune equally. That, my friends, is true love.

Cat mom, librarian, and writer in Chicago.

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