Marian or Marion?

I’m a stickler for spelling and punctuation (see my post last week on that anal-retentive trait), so it still bugs me that I can’t ever seem to remember if the librarian in The Music Man is spelled “Marian” or “Marion.” I spelled it BOTH ways in my undergraduate thesis, which still makes me cringe. And that’s probably what inspired this blog post — maybe after writing this, I won’t have to look it up again. 😉

Oh, and if you don’t know who “Marian the Librarian” is, then you’ve probably stumbled onto the wrong blog.

Here’s a quick Google search for “Marian the Librarian”

And here’s a quick Google search for “Marion the Librarian”

Both ways result in tens of thousands of results each. So it’s a relief that I’m not the only person with this problem. Google does provide a big hint in asking on the 2nd search:

So what’s the difference between the two spellings? Is it like Frances/Francis, that one little letter denotes a difference in gender? (My maternal grandmother’s first name was Frances, so I remember that being the “female” spelling.) Wiktionary tells me… there’s really no difference. Both spellings can be for boys or girls, and the idea that “Marion” with an “o” is for boys and that “Marian” with an “a” is for girls is contributed attributed to folk etymology, or common misconception.

Meredith Willson's star on the Hollywood Walk ...

I took another route by looking up Meredith Willson, who wrote the original play, which was produced on Broadway in 1957. Why did he choose the name? I was crossing my fingers for an answer more interesting than it rhymed with the word “librarian.” (Not that I’m against that.) And lo and behold, he based the lead female role on an actual librarian! (I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not to our profession. Guess it depends on how much you like the play or subsequent adaptations.) A little snippet, “A Pair of Marians,” in the March 2005 issue of American Libraries revealed that Willson met Marian Seeley, a medical records librarian from Provo, Utah, in California during World War II. He dubbed her “Marian the Librarian.”

So Willson based his fictional Marian with an “a” on a real Marian with an “a.” 🙂

An interview between the real Marian and her grandson, Dave Kimball, on http://therealmarianthelibrarian.blogspot.com/ (the one and only post on this blog) reveals even more. Marian Seeley knew Willson through her husband, Frank, who worked with him in the Armed Forces Radio Service during that time. Seeley’s explanation of how “Marian the Librarian” moniker came about:

Well, he [Willson] thought a medical librarian was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard.

(Sigh.)

In another interview, this one in the Daily Herald from Provo, Utah, Marian reflects on whether or not the character she helped inspire was anything like her.

So there you go. A long and interesting answer to a short question. What did we learn?

  • If referring to “Marian the Librarian” song and character Marian Paroo from Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, it’s spelled with an “a.”
  • If you’re referring to the real “Marian the Librarian,” Marian Seeley, it’s spelled with an “a.”
  • If you’re referring to the recurring character Marion the Librarian on the animated TV show Handy Manny, it’s spelled with an “o.”

And if you’re a fan of L. M. Montgomery’s works set in Avonlea and Green Gables, then you know it’s “Anne” spelled with an “e.” 😉

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3 comments on “Marian or Marion?

  1. Karen says:

    I believe you meant that “the idea that ‘Marion’ with an ‘o’ is for boys and that ‘Marian’ with an ‘a’ is for girls” is attributed to folk etymology, rather than contributed.

  2. […] Continuing my “Summer of Nostalgia” blog tour and revisiting past favorites on this blog…  next up is a post from May 2012, “Marian or Marion?” […]

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