Yesterday, I finished my traditional-style painting of Mary and Gabriel which I started in December but put off finishing for months (painting at bottom). When I was going to post it intending only share the creative work, I felt compelled to look at Mary’s name since I had been researching Biblical names lately. What I found had me write this more extensive article about her name.
I was surprised to see Mary’s original Hebrew name was actually Miriam ( מרים ), which most Christians recognize as the sister of Moses. The Hebrew name Miriam is pronounced [“mihr-yahm”], only two syllables, and obviously does not look or sound like the modern Anglicized name, Mary.
Miriam should be transliterated as Miryam, like Jesus should actually be Yeshua
, but like Yeshua, translating Miriam into Greek didn’t produce a phonetically reliable translation. Her Greek name came out to be Μαρία or María, which sounds like today’s common Spanish/Latin form of her name, Maria [“mah-ree-ah”].
Like with Yeshua, I noticed the Greek form of Miryam, lost the last consonant ‘m’, like Yeshua lost the final vowel ‘ah’. For Yeshua, Greek male names did not end in ‘a’, so it was dropped in Greek translation. In my search of Ancient Greek names, there were no female names ending in ‘m’ and only one male name, Priam, which is the short version of Priamos, the King of Troy in the famous Greek narrative, Illiad by Homer, so Miryam would not have been a proper Greek woman’s name.
However, unlike Yeshua, I noted Greek does have phonetics to preserve the first syllable of Miryam/Miriam since the Greek vowel iota has the short ‘i’ sound. Why then was Miryam translated as Maria instead of Miria?
Some references suggested Mary and Maria came from the Ancient Egyptian name Mery/Meri, which means beloved[1.1]. This may make sense because the ancient Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years (Genesis 15:13; Acts 7:6), and so there definitely would have been language influences on Ancient Hebrew from Ancient Egyptian.
The problem with that thinking, though, is that Hebrew’s Miryam/Miriam does not sound like Mary, which is how modern linguists think the Egyptian Mery or Meri sounds. Also, Ancient Egyptian is a long extinct language that was reconstructed by modern scholars[1.2], so the phonetics of Egyptian Mery/Meri cannot be certain to sound like the English Mary, but furthermore, the Egyptian Mery/Meri was a male name. The female version was Meryt or Merit, which looks like the modern English, merit, meaning something of value, however, the etymology and meaning of English merit is completely different from the ancient Egyptian name.
With these things in mind, it does not appear that Mary’s Hebrew name had anything to do with Ancient Egyptian names, but I did find some very curious links with modern Mary and the Hebrew name Miryam/Miriam ( מרים ). The Hebrew name means “rebellion” or “their rebellion”[1.3, 1.4], so when I looked at Hebrew words for rebellion or rebellious, I noted one, ( מרי ) meree, is pronounced exactly like the English name Mary [“mehr-ee”].
This linguistic link appears to be yet another God-orchestrated language manipulation that spanned many centuries of development across multiple cultures, which I also found in God’s names
. He obviously wanted to affirm that Mary’s name means “rebellion” just as Miryam/Miriam does.
Another Hebrew word for rebellion is ( מרה ) marah [“mah-rah”][1.5], which was also used as the name Marah to mean “bitter,”[1.6] referring to the bitter waters the Jews found after crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 15:22-23). This word has the same pronunciation as the name Mara ( מרא )[1.7], though, its last letter is different. Mara also means “bitter or bitterness” and is the name Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, wanted to be called after she lost her husband and sons (Ruth 1:20). The name Mara has more phonetics in common with the Greek Maria than the Hebrew Miryam.
These linguistic links suggest the Greek translation for Miryam (Maria) came from a combination of the original Hebrew name Miryam and Hebrew words and names for rebellion and bitter (marah and Mara). This cannot be confirmed by historical record or linguistics, though.
What is clear is that Maria or Μαρία was not an ancient Greek name. It does not seem to appear outside of scripture, so it must be like Yeshua’s translated name, Ιησους [“ee’ay-soos”]. It wasn’t a true Greek name that Christ or His disciples used in person or speech, but it was used as His written Greek name since it had to be recorded in Greek writing.
I don’t believe the early church or first disciples or apostles of Christ used Ιησους when speaking to Him or in prayer, but the translated name obviously came into use after that first generation of the church died and the original pronunciation of Christ’s name was lost to written record.
This is what happened with Mary’s name as well. It was pronounced Miryam in her lifetime, but after centuries, the church lost people’s actual names unless they were transliterated accurately in writing, which is impossible for many Hebrew names because Greek does not have the phonetics to replicate Hebrew. The written versions of names replaced the actual ones, but God miraculously preserved Mary’s name to retain the link with rebellion in her original Hebrew name Miryam – remember a Hebrew word for rebellion ( מרי ) is pronounced exactly like Mary.
Why would God do this? Is He saying Mary embodied rebellion against God, which is the most common usage of the Hebrew word in scripture for rebellion that sounds like Mary? A patriarchal church might suggest this because Miryam, Moses’s sister, along with his brother Aaron, tried to become equal with Moses but this angered God and He turned Miryam leprous (Numbers 12:1-15).
Miryam being cursed like this could be construed as rebellion against God since it was rebellion against Moses. However, rebellion against God is not His intended meaning for Miryam’s or Mary’s name. The rebellion in her name is that against the “establishment” or unrighteous rule, which in the time of Miryam, Moses’s sister, was a very big problem for the Jews because of their slavery in Egypt.
And so likewise, Miryam, the mother of Yeshua Christ, embodied this rebellion against the “establishment” – the corrupt and unjust rule of the Jewish teachers and leaders of that time. This conclusion is not simply speculation on my part, but is by the Spirit and backed up by God through numeric linguistic links, much like I found with God’s names having special meaning hidden in their numbers
When I looked at gematria values for Miryam and the Greek translation Maria, I noted the values for both her name in Greek, Μαρία, as well as its translation, Maria, were 152. I understood this to be just short of 153 – the number for evangelism and the Gospel Age
which comes from the 153 fish caught in John 21:10-11. What is important about this?
Miryam or Mary, the mother of Christ, being equal to 152, was the precursor for the Gospel Age in body. Without her, the church and its Age of Evangelism (153) would not have begun. Praise God for His wonders!
[1.1] "Mary". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2023 Mar. 19.
[1.2] "Egyptian language". Wikipedia. Retrieved 2023 Mar. 19.
[1.3] "Entry for Strong's #4813 - מרים (Miriam meaning ‘rebellion’)". Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. BibleSoft, Inc. 2002, 2003, 2006.
[1.4] "Entry for Strong's #3137 - Μαρία (Mary or Miriam meaning 'their rebellion'". Thayer's Expanded Greek Definition. BibleSoft, Inc. 2002, 2003, 2006, 2011.
[1.5] "Entry for Strong's #4784 - מרה (marah meaning 'to be rebellious, contentious, disobedient'". Thayer's Expanded Greek Definition. BibleSoft, Inc. 2002, 2003, 2006, 2011.
[1.6] "Entry for Strong's #4785 - מרה (Marah meaning 'bitter'". Thayer's Expanded Greek Definition. BibleSoft, Inc. 2002, 2003, 2006, 2011.
[1.7] "Entry for Strong's #4755 - מרא (Mara meaning 'bitterness'". Thayer's Expanded Greek Definition. BibleSoft, Inc. 2002, 2003, 2006, 2011.