What’s in a Name?

Anyone who knows me knows I am a NAME SNOB.  I have very strong opinions on baby naming.  A name has to look worthy on a diploma, resume, or book jacket.  A good name gives you street cred.  Family history and tradition lend gravitas.  Combined with an introduction, it creates a first impression.  In my not-so-humble opinion, a first name also has to flow with the given surname.  While Apple Martini flows, for example, it is just not a serious name.  Pole dancer or federal judge?  Squarely in the pole dancing column. 

Naming in the Bible is serious business.  Sometimes names were handed down in dreams or visions.  Formal naming of a child was always associated with a ceremony.   When the angel Gabriel had his chat with Mary and gave her the good news, he also supplied the name.  An (unspecified) angel also told Zechariah to name Jesus’ cousin John.  Yet another angel commanded Hagar name her son Ishmael, thereby sanctioning the creation of another nation.  Bottom line:  when an angel gives you a name, it sticks. 

There is no mention in the Bible of where Mary got her name.  According to Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, “Mary (Gk “Mariam”)< from Heb “Miryam”; the name recollecting both Moses’ sister Miriam and Herod’s Hasmonean wife Mariamme, was common among first-century Jewish women.”

There are six (!) Christian Marys in the New Testament.  That’s huge.  Can you name them all? I could not.  

In one of my study books, the name Mary means “excellence”.  The most accepted meaning, however, is bitter.  I always thought it was weird that the Mother of God’s name meant bitter or, equally abhorent, rebellious.  From the Hebrew root*, it conjures images of the Israelites quarreling at the rocks of Meribah and Manassah.   Moses, 40 years after striking the rock the first time and miraculously bringing forth water, strikes it twice instead of speaking to it, as directed by God.  For his disobedience, he was only permitted to gaze at the Promised Land, not set foot in it.  Yowza.  This seems a little harsh.   

I am guessing there were a lot of Miryams and Miriams around as reminders to behave.   The name Maryam or Mariam in the Islamic faith is used widely to show reverence for the woman of great chastity. 

For me, Mary is the antidote to bitterness and rebellion.  She, literally invested with the Holy Spirit, turned her name upside down, being the epitome of grace and obedience.  Oh, the irony.  Ah, the reconciliation.  A rose by any other name would not smell as sweet!

 You have now been introduced. 

Herewith concludes Day 2.


Thanks to my parents for giving me an excellent name.  They ticked all the boxes.  Do YOU like your name?  What does it mean? 

Click here for the full Hebrew explication.  This link will also give you the names of the 6 Marys in the New Testament. 



Filed under Life, Religion, Traditions

3 responses to “What’s in a Name?

  1. raftbuddy

    I am glad for my favorite “Mary” with an excellent name. My husband has cousins (all in the same nuclear family) named Peter, Paul, Mary, John and James. Wonder where the parents got their inspiration?!?! I guess once they got started, they stuck with the theme!

  2. Wendy

    I have always thought my name belongs to a five year old, but now it just means hamburgers.

  3. MCVwasHere

    I love ❤ my name. Married included.

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