Contracted form of Latin Maria Magdalene (see Madeleine). The name is of German origin, but is now also widely used in the English-speaking world, normally in a pronunciation with two syllables (compare Arlene and Charlene). Probably the first, and certainly the most famous, bearer of the name was the film star Marlene Dietrich (1901–92), who was born Marie Magdalene. The name was further popularized in the 1940s by the wartime German song ‘Lili Marlene’, which was immensely popular among both German and British troops in North Africa.
English and German: topographic name for someone living near a hilltop or mountain peak, from Middle English knolle ‘hilltop’, ‘hillock’ (Old English cnoll), Middle High German knol ‘peak’. In some cases the English name is habitational, from one of the many places named with this word, for example Knole in Kent or Knowle in Dorset, West Midlands, etc.