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Bible Encyclopedias

The Catholic Encyclopedia

The Name of Mary

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(In Scripture and in Catholic use)

New Testament, Mariam and sometimes Maria — it seems impossible, in the present state of the text, to say whether the form Mariam was reserved by the Evangelists for the Mother of Christ, and the form Maria used for all others of the name. The form Mariam undoubtedly represents the Hebrew MRYM, the name of the sister of Moses and Aaron (Numbers 12:1 ff.). In 1 Chronicles 4:17, it occurs presumably as the name of a man, but the Septuagint has ton Maron. The etymology of the name Miriam (MRYM) is exceedingly doubtful. Two roots are proposed: (a) MRH meaning "to rebel", in which connection some have endeavoured to derive the name of the sister of Moses from the rebellion against him (Numbers 12:1). But this seems far-fetched, as her murmuring is by no means the only, or the principal event, recorded of her; (b) MRA meaning "to be fat"; it is thought that, since the permission of this quality was, to the Semitic mind, the essence of beauty, the name Miriam may have meant "beautiful". But the meaning "lady", which is so common among the Fathers of the Church, and which is enshrined in the Catholic expression "Our Lady", has much to support it. The Aramaic MRA means "Lord" as we see in St. Paul's Maranatha — i.e. "Come Lord", or "the Lord is nigh". It is true the name Miriam has no aleph in our Hebrew text; but through the Aramaic word for "Lord" always has an aleph in the older inscriptions (e.g. those of Zenjirli of the eighth century, B.C.), yet in later inscriptions from Palmyra the aleph has gone. Besides, the presence of the yodh may well be due to the formative ending mem, which is generally the sign of abstract nouns. The rendering "star of the sea" is without foundation except in a tropological sense; Cornelius à Lapide would render "lady, or teacher, or guide of the sea", the sea being this world, of which Christ Himself (Numbers 24:17) is the Star. The frequency with which the name occurs in the New Testament (cf. infra) shows that it was a favourite one at the time of Christ. One of Herod's wives was the ill-fated Mariamn, a Jewess; Josephus gives us this name sometimes as Mariamme, at others as Mariame or Mariamne. The favor in which the name was then held is scarcely to be attributed to the influence her fate had on the Jews (Stanley, "Jewish Church". III, 429); it is far more likely that the fame of the sister of Moses contributed to this result — cf. Mich., vi, 4, where Miriam is put on the same footing as Moses and Aaron; "I sent before thy face Moses and Aaron and Mary." At a time when men like Simeon were "looking for the Consolation of Israel", their minds would naturally revert to the great names of the Exodus. For extra-Biblical instances of the name at this time see Josephus "Antiquities", iv, 6, XVIII, v, 4, and "Jewish War", VI, iv. In Christian times the name has always been popular; no less than seven historically famous Marys are given in the "Dictionary of Christian Biography". Among Catholics it is one of the commonest of baptismal names; and in many religious orders, both of men and women, it is the practice to take this name in addition to some other distinctive name, when entering the religious state.


Besides the Biblical dictionaries and ordinary commentaries, see BARDENHEWER, Der Name Maria in Bibl. Studien (Freiburg, 1885).

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Bibliography Information
Obstat, Nihil. Lafort, Remy, Censor. Entry for 'The Name of Mary'. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. New York. 1914.

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