🔼The name Maria: Summary
- Rebellion, Myrrh
- From the verb מרה (mara), to be rebellious, or מרר (marar), to be bitter or strong.
🔼The name Maria in the Bible
For some reason, the Biblical name Maria was turned into Mary in the English speaking world (and see our article on that name for a closer look at Mary's literary function in the Bible). But the name Maria is still very popular in the rest of it. And it seems that the name Maria was also quite popular in the time of Jesus, as there are surprisingly many Marias mentioned in the New Testament:
- The most famous Maria, of course, is the mother of Jesus (Matthew 1:16).
- A close second is Mary Magdalene (Matthew 27:56).
- Then there are: Maria, the wife of Clopas (John 19:25).
- The sister of Lazarus and Martha (John 11:1).
- The mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12).
- A disciple in Rome who Paul mentions in his epistle to the Roman congregation (Romans 16:6).
🔼Etymology of the name Maria
The name Maria is Greek but it is a transliteration of the Hebrew name Miriam. When the Bible was translated from Greek to Latin, the translators had a problem because Μαριαμ, the Greek version of the Hebrew name Miriam, looked like an accusative form. And that would make Mariam look like the grammatical object of every sentence she featured in. The translators solved the problem by neatly omitting the -m, and thus the name Maria saw the light.
The name Miriam is probably very old; it stems from Egypt, together with other typical Levite names such as Moses and Aaron, and it's probably derived from a word that means Beloved. But to a Hebrew audience it probably seemed as if the name Miriam had something to do with the verb מרה (mara) meaning to be rebellious or disobedient. And this new Greek name Maria may have seemed more akin to the Hebrew and Aramaic verb מרר (marar), meaning to be bitter or strong:
The verb מרר (marar) means to be strong or bitter and can be used to describe tastes and smells, and hard or difficult situations.
Adjectives מר (mar) and מרירי (meriri) mean bitter. Nouns מרור (maror) and מרורה (merora) refer to any bitter thing, the former specifically to a certain bitter herb, and the latter to gall or poison.
Noun מררה (merera) also means gal. Nouns מרה (morra), מרה (mora), מרירות (merirut), ממר (memer), ממרור (mamror) and תמרור (tamrur) mean bitterness. The latter noun is spelled identical to the noun תמרור (tamrur), meaning marker or sign post, from the root תמר (tamar), meaning to be stiff or erect.
And speaking of such, the nouns מר (mor) and מור (mor) mean myrrh, a bitter and fragrant spice that was originally used to mark the tabernacle, but which came to be used to proclaim, olfactorily, the consummation of marriage. Hence, despite its links to words that mostly describe hardship, myrrh oil was known as the "oil of joy."
Verb מרה (mara) means to be contentious or rebellious, particularly against God. Noun מרי (meri) means rebellion.
The verb מור (mor) means to change. Perhaps the connection between the previous is coincidental but perhaps these words are indeed linked, as change is often reaction to bitterness or opposition. The noun תמורה (temura) means exchange.
NOBSE Study Bible Name List doesn't treat Maria but for Mary it reads a brusque "same as Miriam," and proposes Obstinacy (Stubbornness) for Miriam. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads Their Rebellion for Miriam.