🔼The name Miriam: Summary
- Unclear but perhaps Beloved, Rebellion or Myrrhs
- Unclear but possibly from Egyptian, or from the verb מרה (mara), to be rebellious, or from the word מר (mor), myrrh, or perhaps the noun ים (yam), sea, west or future.
🔼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).
🔼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:
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.
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, whereas the second part of the name Miriam holds some resemblance to the word ים (yam) meaning sea:
The noun ים (yam) means sea, and was also used as synonym for west (sea-ward) or the future (as "east" corresponds to "past"). Its plural form, ימים (yamim), is identical to the plural of the word יום (yom), meaning day.
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 ים (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. The name Miriam could be construed as a regular plural form, which thus means Myrrhs or rather Wedding Nights. It denotes a people that consists entirely of Christs or anointed ones (1 John 2:20). Please read our article on the name Mary for a closer look at this.