Miriam (given name)

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Miriam, Miryam
Feuerbach Mirjam 2.jpg
Miriam the prophetess
(Anselm Feuerbach 1862)
Word/nameHebrew (Egyptian)
Meaningunknown; various
Region of originLevant
Other names
Nickname(s)Mimi, Miri, Mim, Mir
Related namesMaria, Mariam, Mary, Maryam, Meryem

Miriam (Hebrew: מִרְיָם, Modern: Mīryam, Tiberian: Mīryām) is a feminine given name recorded in Biblical Hebrew, recorded in the Book of Exodus as the name of the sister of Moses, the prophetess Miriam.[1]

Spelling variants include French Myriam, German Mirjam, Mirijam; hypocoristic forms include Mira, Miri and Mimi (commonly given in Israel).[2]

The name's etymology is unclear. Since many Levite names are of Egyptian origin, the name could come from the Egyptian mr "love", as in the Egyptian names mry.t-jmn (Merit-Amun) "beloved of Amun" and mry.t-rꜥ (Merytre) "beloved of Ra".[3]

An older Grecian pronunciation of this name, Maryām (Μαριάμ), is found in the Greek Old Testament (3rd century BCE) and in the New Testament manuscripts as the name of several women, including Mary, mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Variants of this name include Greek and Latin Maria, whence French Marie and English Mary.

Variant Maryam[edit]

Mary, mother of the Jesus of the New Testament, bore a Judeo-Aramaic variant of this name, Maryām (מרים). In the New Testament of the Bible, written in Greek, her name is transliterated Mariam (Μαριάμ) or Maria. Several other women in the New Testament, including St. Mary Magdalene, are called by the same name.

In antiquity, it was variously etymologized as "rebellion", "bitter sea", "strong waters", "exalted one", "ruling one", "wished for child", or "beautiful".[3]

St. Jerome (writing c. 390), following Eusebius of Caesarea, translates the name as "drop of the sea" (stilla maris in Latin), from Hebrew מר mar "drop" (cf. Isaias 40:15) and ים yam "sea". This translation was subsequently rendered stella maris ("star of the sea") due to scribal error or as a result of 3rd century vowel shifts, from which comes the Virgin Mary's title Star of the Sea.[3]

Alternatively, the name can be interpreted "star of the sea" if taken as a contracted form of the Hebrew מאור ma'or "star" (lit. "luminary") plus ים yam "sea", yet this "strikes as a very free interpretation".[4]

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 Israelites 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, mar) for her people.[5]

Because of Mary's great religious significance, variants of her name are often given to girl children in both the Western and Arab worlds. 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 from thence into many modern European languages.

Notable people named Miriam[edit]





Notable people named Myriam[edit]

The letter y in the transliteration Miryam represents the palatal glide /j/. The metathesized spelling Myriam has also gained some currency,[year needed] especially in France, alongside Miriam and Miryam.

The name of Israeli or Lebanese people called "Miriam" may be transliterated Miryam or Myriam depending on whether the context of the transliteration is French or English.




  • Myriam François, pseudonym of Emilie François (born 1983), British writer, broadcaster, and academic; former actress

Fictional characters[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ What's in a Name? 25 Jewish Stories (in German, English, and French). Biel: Jewish Museum of Switzerland. 2022. ISBN 978-3-907262-34-4.
  2. ^ Dan Isaac Slobin, The Crosslinguistic Study of Language Acquisition, p.342
  3. ^ a b c "Though the meaning of Mary as derived from the Egyptian Mery, Meryt (cherished, beloved), is most suitable for an only daughter, such a derivation is only possible, or at best barely probable." A. Maas, "The Name of Mary", The Catholic Encyclopedia (1912)
  4. ^ "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 ימ (yam), sea, the name Miriam would translate to Stella Maris (star of the sea), but that strikes as a very free interpretation.", "Meaning, origin and etymology of the name Miriam", Abarim Publications
  5. ^ 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."

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