Its earliest appearance in writing may be in the biblical Book of Exodus, in which the elder sister of Moses is called Miriam.
The origin of the Hebrew: מִרְיָם, ModernMiryamTiberianMiryām is not clear. It may mean "wished-for child", "bitter", "rebellious" or "strong waters". Alternatively, bearing in mind that many Levite names are Egyptian, it might be derived from an Egyptian word myr "beloved" or mr "love",. A far less likely derivation is from the ancient Egyptian name Meritamen or "Merit-Amun", "beloved of Amun".
Rashi, an 11th-century Jewish commentator on the Bible, wrote that the name was given to the sister of Moses because of the Egyptians' harsh treatment of Jews in Egypt. Rashi wrote that the Jews lived in Egypt for two hundred ten years, including eighty-six years of cruel enslavement that began at the time Moses' elder sister was born. Therefore, the girl was called Miriam, because the Egyptians made life bitter (מַר) for her people.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, bore a Judeo-Aramaic variant of this name, Maryām (מרים). In the New Testament of the Bible, written in Greek, her name is transformed to Mariam (Μαριάμ) or Maria. Several other women in the New Testament, including Mary Magdalene, are called by the same name. Because of Mary's great significance to two other world religions, variants of her name are often given to girl children in both Christian and Islamic cultures. In the Quran, Mary's name assumed the Arabic form Maryam (مريم), which has also passed into other languages. The Greek variant Maria passed into Latin and many modern European languages.
^Holly Ingraham, People's names: A Cross-Cultural Guide to the Proper Use of Over 40,000 Names in Over One Hundred Culture Groups (1997). This suggested etymology is disputed; as a female name it would be "Meritamun", which is not that close in pronunciation.
^Rashi. "Commentary on Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs)". p. 2:13. "From the time that Miriam was born, the Egyptians intensified the bondage upon Israel; therefore, she was called Miriam, because they made it bitter (מַר) for them."