Miriam meaning | Miriam etymology

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Miriam in Biblical Hebrew
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The name Miriam in the Bible

There are two Miriams mentioned in the Old Testament. The most famous one is the prophetess and older sister of Moses and Aaron. Another Miriam (most probably a male!) is mentioned in the genealogy of Judah (1 Chronicles 4:17).

Also note that the popular name Maria (or Mary) is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name Miriam.

Etymology and meaning of the name Miriam

The origin and meaning of the name Miriam is unclear, although — as many Levite names are for some reason Egyptian — it may have to do with the Egyptian word for Beloved (see the name Merari). On a Hebrew stage, most scholars derive the name Miriam from the verb מרה (mara) meaning to be rebellious or disobedient:

Abarim Publications Theological Dictionary

Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads Their Rebellion. NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Obstinacy, Stubbornness.

To a creative audience, the first part of the name Miriam could also be regarded as related to the verb מרר (marar), meaning to be bitter or to be strong:

And the second part of the name Miriam holds some resemblance to the word ים (yam) meaning sea:

Abarim Publications Theological Dictionary

Hence, the name Miriam also means Bitter Waters or Waters Of Strength.

Jerome (4th century AD) suggested relations with the word מאור (ma'or), meaning star, from the verb אור ('or), to be light or shine. Combined with the word ימ (yam), sea, the name Miriam would translate to Stella Maris (star of the sea), but that strikes as a very free interpretation.

Here at Abarim Publications we like to believe that these names have to do with מר (mor), meaning myrrh. Read our article on the name Nicodemus for an explanation.

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