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Meaning and etymology of the name Miriam

Miriam Miriam, Mariam Mariam

The English name Mary is the transliteration of the Greek name Maria or Mariam, which in turn is the transliteration of the Hebrew name Miriam.

There are two Miriams mentioned in the OT. 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).

Mary is a popular name in the New Testament. The most famous Mary is the mother of Jesus (Mat 1:16). Others are Mary Magdalene (Mat 27:56), the mother of James and Joseph (Matthew 27:56), the sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 11:1), the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12), and a Roman Christian (Romans 16:6).

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 mara (mara) meaning to be rebellious, disobedient. A derivation from this verb is meri (meri) meaning rebellion (see the name Meribah). Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads Their Rebellion. NOBS Study Bible Name List reads Obstinacy, Stubbornness.

Another possibility is a combination of the words mar and ymm:

mar (mar) means bitter; mar (mar) means myrrh. Both come from the root marar (marar) meaning be bitter, strengthen, strong. mar (mar 1249a) probably means drop but is used only once, in Isaiah 40:15).
The word ymm (yam) means sea (see the name Abijam).

Hence, the name Miriam also means Strong Waters or Waters Of Strength. Related names would be Mara, Merari and Ithamar.

Jerome (4th century AD) suggested relations with the word maor (ma'or), star, from the verb or ('or), to be light, shine (see the names Aaron, Ur and Urim). Combined with the word ymm (yam), sea, the name translates to Stella Maris (star of the sea), but that strikes as a very free interpretation.



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