If you ask ten people whether Marcus is a typically African American first name, you’re likely to get half saying yes and half saying no.
Their answers usually depend on who they know with that name. But that’s hardly scientific.
This article tries to be less subjective. I trawled through recent high school yearbooks to investigate if Marcus is currently more common amongst African Americans than students of other heritage.
Then I used historic census data to check if Marcus was a typical black name in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Is Marcus An African American First Name?
You may not know that your high school yearbook may be online. There are several archives that have gathered many thousands of yearbooks from the 1900s to as recent as 2016.
I picked 2014 as the year for my research. Then I narrowed my review to three states with a significant black population.
This table is the summary of my review.
In general, Marcus isn’t as common in recent years as some other first names like Tyrone or Jordan.
However, Marcus is definitely picked as a first name amongst black communities. In some states, at least half the young men you meet named Marcus will be African American.
Explaining the table
Of course, there are more than twenty-one schools in Georgia or five in Louisiana. But many didn’t have a student named Marcus in their 2014 yearbook!
The second column shows the number of schools where I found at least one kid with Marcus as his first name.
The “Marcus” column is the total number of students named Marcus that appear in the yearbooks in that state.
The last column shows the percentage that I believed to be African American, based on their photograph.
The challenge of using high school yearbooks
There are several online archives of high school yearbooks. I used Ancestry.com.
If you’ve looked at historic census records in the U.S., you’ll know that ethnicity is one of the questions that people are asked.
This means that the census archives can be searched by ethnicity as well as specific names.
However, I could only search the high school yearbooks by student names and school locations. So, how did I identify African Americans from people of other heritage?
Well, the recent high school yearbooks have photographs of the students! I did it by eye.
I’m not going to be one hundred percent right. Consider the numbers to be an estimate.
Choosing good locations for research
There’s another problem with this kind of review.
Let’s say that I counted two African American students named Marcus in one school, while twenty non-black students were called Marcus.
Does that mean that Marcus is unusual in the black community? No, not necessarily. What if the school was predominantly white?
If there were only ten black students in the high school, then finding two named Marcus would suggest the name is actually common amongst African Americans.
In order to avoid that kind of imbalance, I restricted my review of high schools in three states with the highest percentage of black residents:
- Mississippi (37%)
- Georgia (31%)
- Louisiana (31%)
(D.C. has the highest percentage but, of course, has a much smaller population).
Was Marcus A Black Name Historically In The U.S.?
To review whether Marcus was a popular first name in the 19th and early 20th centuries, I looked at several federal censuses.
The 1870 census was the first survey after the Civil War and emancipation. All African Americans were included in this census for the first time.
The census-takers could enter black or mixed for each person’s color. They weren’t always correct in their choice. I usually check both categories when I’m researching African American genealogy.
In 1870, about nine percent of people with the first name Marcus were recorded as black or mixed. So, people with the name were far more likely to be white.
The 1900 and 1940 censuses didn’t have the “mixed” category that was in other censuses. So, I only needed to review the black numbers versus the total population.
The proportion of black men named Marcus remained at about nine percent in 1900 and 1940.
My conclusion is that Marcus was not a common African American first name in the past.
Detailed census breakdown
Here are the numbers from these three censuses.
Most Famous African American Named Marcus
The activist Marcus Garvey is probably the most famous black male named Marcus worldwide. But Marcus Garvey wasn’t African American. He was Jamaican.
So, I’ve picked a different Marcus.
Marcus LeMarr Allen was one of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL. After winning the Heisman Trophy and an NCAA title at USC, he was drafted by the Raiders.
Marcus Allen was the MVP in the Raiders’ Super Bowl win in 1984. In the latter part of his career, he played for the Kansas City Chiefs. Marcus retired in 1997.
If you’re curious about his surname, check out our article on Allen as an African American last name.
What Are The Origins Of Marcus As A First Name?
Marcus does not have African origins. The early origins are in Europe.
It is generally believed to come from the Ancient Roman name for their God of War. In other words, it derives from the Latin name Mars.
The name is currently found across Europe. That includes Ireland, where Marcus is the Irish form of the English name Mark.
What About Similar Names?
Check out our article that asks if DeMarcus is an African American first name.
Marcus reminds me of Trevor in that many people would immediately assume that they are both white names. Check out our review into Trevor as a typically black name.