The name has a few different etymologies depending on its source. In Germany, it is a contracted form of Marlene, now used as an independent given name.

In Russia, it is the name of an indigineous nature based pre-Christian religion practiced by the Mari in the Republic of Mari El. The name is sometimes used among the Mari much in the same way Christians use the names Christian and Christine and Muslims use Islam.

The Marla religion is one of the last traditional beliefs to have survived Christianization and has co-existed with Russian Orthodoxy for centuries. The name has also been used by non-Mari Russians as well.

Currently, Marla is the 141st most popular female name in Germany, (2011). In Russian, it is spelled as Марла.

In the United States, the name is often associated with Socialite, Marla Maples (b.1963).