Meaning the Name of Mary

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The name of Mary, like the Name of Jesus, is used in both Old and New Testaments. However, unlike Jesus which means “salvation,” the name of Mary can potentially mean many different things, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I will show why I believe the meaning “exalted” is appropriate for the meaning to fit the Blessed Virgin Mary

The name Mary in Hebrew Miriam is spelled identical to two other words in the Hebrew bible “bitter ones” and “exalted” (from the word רום , rum meaning lifted up as in Deuteronomy 17:20) the Syrian Christians have favored the latter explanation. Some have also proposed it means “rebel” (from root meri, מרי meaning “rebellion” as in Numbers 17:25)  rebel and bitter maybe linked since they represent the resentment the Hebrews felt under Egyptian bondage. Bitter herbs were used to represent slavery in Exodus 12’s Passover meal. Perhaps, if “bitter”/ “rebel” is the meaning, she rebelled against those of her time by being obedient to the Law of God, and certainly she rebelled by not letting her son be killed by King Herod!” The Miriam in the Torah seems to be called Miriam from the word “bitter,” because we do not see her named until Exodus 15 where the word bitter is used. However, this could possibly be the new meaning taken on by her name if what holds true for Miriam is the same for Moses and Aaron–that is Egyptian names given Hebrew meaning, then Miriam may be Meryamon or Mariamne possibly meaning “beloved of Amon.” A popular explanation–stella mar [star of the sea] among Latins was popularized by a misreading of St Jerome “stilla maris” which means “drop of the sea.” St Jerome took Miriam as being from mar, מר “drop” [only used in Isaiah 40:15 as k’mar, כְּמַר–“as a drop”] and yam, יָם meaning “sea” as in Genesis 14:13 where the “Salt Sea” is referenced.  מר , mar can also mean myrrh as in Exodus 30:23.  Mar in Aramaic is the word for “lord” as in Daniel 4:19  (v16 in some texts), where mari,  מָרִאי or מָרִי is used, “lady”/”mistress” (mistress in the older usage meaning a respectable woman, not the modern expression for a home-wrecker) would probably be a similar word, though never used in any Aramaic biblical text, but is used in the “Jerusalem” Talmud (Sanhedrin 23) in the form מרתה, marta (similar to Martha, like the name in the New Testament). Some also believe the name could mean Lady Sea, or Bitter Sea.

First, for the Hebrew name of Mary we look at Exodus, where Moses’ sister Miriam is named:

And Miriam [Miryam, מִרְיָם] the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.–Exodus 15:20

The spelling מרים (no vowels, with no vav, lammed, etc prefixes) appears 16 times in the Hebrew Bible (not including the ‘Deuterocanonicals’) in 14 verses. The name Miriam in any form appears 15 times in 13 verses (with and without the vav, lammed ‘prefix’). There are 3 meaning it is translated as: Miriam, bitter ones, and exalted. Here are the some appearances of the spelling מרים (no vowels, with no vav, lammed, etc prefixes) in red, underlined are words that are similar or have the same root:

And Miriam [Miryam, מִרְיָם] the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.  And Miriam [Miryam, מִרְיָם]  sang unto them: Sing ye to the LORD, for He is highly exalted: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.–Exodus 15:20-21

And when they came to Marah [Maratah, מָרָתָה]  , they could not drink of the waters of Marah [מִמָּרָה, mimmarah] for they were bitter [mirim, מָרִים]. Therefore the name of it was called Marah [marah, מָרָה ].–Exodus 15:23

every one lifting up [mérim, מֵרִים] a heave-offering [t’rumatתְּרוּמַת] of silver and brass have brought in the heave-offering [t’rumatתְּרוּמַת] of the LORD; and every one with whom hath been found shittim wood for any work of the service brought it in.–Exodus 35:24 Young’s Literal Translation (most translations do not literally translate it as “lifting up”, also I removed the ‘J name’)

The wise shall inherit honour; but as for the fools, they carry away [mérim, מֵרִים]  shame.–Proverbs 3:35

He that is slow to anger is of great understanding; but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth [mérim, מֵרִים] folly.–Proverbs 14:29

and because of the greatness that He gave him, all the peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he raised up [marim, מָרִים] , and whom he would he put down.–Daniel 5:19 (Aramaic portion)

Exalted seems more reasonable for Mary of the New Testament, it would perhaps fit in with why the Angel Gabriel said “blessed are you among women”–that is she is exalted among women. In fact, in the Magnificat Mary refers to herself as “lifted up”::

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly–Luke 1:52

We see here she refers to the lowly being “lifted up”, this is related to Mary herself because she a few verses prior she calls herself “lowly”:

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.–Luke 1:48

Sometimes Protestants claim that Catholics “exalt Mary!” However, Mary says that God is the one that exalted her and, in fact, her name may mean exalted!

For more information see Catholic Encyclopedia “Name of Mary”


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