September 12th, Feast of the Holy Name of Mary
And the virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:27)
Today the Church honors the Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, recalling also her patronage of Christians as (through the intercession of the same Mother of God) the Turks’ siege against Vienna was lifted on this day by the glorious victory of John III Sobieski in the year 1683.
There is a great and consoling mystery hidden for us in the name “Mary”.
If “Mary” is Egyptian: “Loved by the Lord”
It is possible that the name “Mary” is of Egyptian origin, for the first known instance of the name among the Chosen People is with the sister of Moses, Miriam. Now, as “Moses” and “Aaron” are almost certainly Egyptian names, there is some possibility that “Mary”/“Miriam” could be of Egyptian origin as well.
The most likely Egyptian derivation would come from the word Mery/Meryt which means “cherished” or “beloved”. It could also be that the Egyptian mer or mar (“to love”) has been combined with the Hebrew Ya (YHWH) to mean, “one loving the Lord” or “one loved by the Lord”. Certainly, all this stands good theologically, but we must admit that the experts tell us that there are considerable etymological difficulties with recourse to Egyptian roots. Hence, it will be better to look instead to the many possible Hebrew explanations of the name.
If “Mary” is two Hebrew words: “Bitter Sea” or “Drop of the Sea”
It is possible that the name of “Mary” is a composition of a Hebrew noun with either a suffix or an adjective, or even of two nouns. The Hebrew of “Mary” is miryam which could be meri with am, meaning “their rebellion” – and this may well be the sense of “Miriam” as applied to Moses’ sister, who rebelled against him in the desert. However, this meaning obviously cannot be applied to our Blessed Mother.
On the other hand, miryam could be mar (“bitter”) and yam (“sea”), meaning “bitter sea”. In this respect, especially in the month of September, we consider that the Mother of God is indeed our Lady of Sorrows. [St. Jerome, among others, held to this etymology]
It is also possible that miryam comes from mor and yam, meaning “myrrh of the sea”; or mari and yam, meaning “mistress of the sea”.
Also interesting to note is the etymology whereby miryam is the combination of mar and yam, meaning “drop of the sea”. In Latin “drop of the sea” is translated as Stilla Maris. However, it seems that stilla was mistaken for stella – which means “star”. Hence, the extremely popular Ave Maris Stella (“Hail Star of the Sea”), whereby the faithful piously invoke our Blessed Lady as the sure guide through the stormy waters of this life to the glory and peace of life everlasting.
While we admit that there is little etymological support for rendering miryam (“Mary”) as “Star of the Sea”, we do point out that the name could well mean “Lady of the Sea” who guides her children through the sea of this world – in this respect, the essence of the popular piety is well founded.
If “Mary” is one Hebrew word: “Beautiful Lady”
If, on the other hand, the name miryam is taken to have come from a single Hebrew word, then it is quite possible that it means either “fat one” (from mara) or “lady” (from mari). Let us consider the meaning of these two etymologies.
It may at first seem very strange to think that the name “Mary” would have anything to do with being “fat” or “plump”. However, we must remember that, in ancient Israel, to be “plump” was largely synonymous with being beautiful – indeed, it would have been quite a compliment to be call mara (“fat”) in first century Israel. Hence, we might well translate “Mary” as “beautiful one”, since this is the essential meaning of the word mara as applied to a woman. How beautiful indeed is our Blessed Mother!
Likewise, it is no surprise to the believer that miryam could well come from the word mari (“mistress”) or marah (“ruling one”) and so mean “Lady”. When we speak of “Mary”, we are truly speaking of “Our Lady”!
Spiritual reflections on the Holy Name of Mary: “Star of the Sea”
From St. Bernard: “Look to the star of the sea, call upon Mary … in danger, in distress, in doubt, think of Mary, call upon Mary. May her name never be far from your lips, or far from your heart … If you follow her, you will not stray; if you pray to her, you will not despair; if you turn your thoughts to her, you will not err. If she holds you, you will not fall; if she protects you, you need not fear; if she is your guide, you will not tire; if she is gracious to you, you will surely reach your destination.” [Hom. II super “Missus est,” 17; Migne, P.L., CLXXXIII, 70]
St. Louis Marie de Montfort: “God the Father gathered all the waters together and called them the seas (maria). He gathered all his graces together and called them Mary (Maria). The great God has a treasury or storehouse full of riches in which he has enclosed all that is beautiful, resplendent, rare, and precious, even his own Son. This immense treasury is none other than Mary whom the saints call the ‘treasury of the Lord’. From her fullness all men are made rich.” (True Devotion to Mary, 23)
[For further consideration of the Holy Name of Mary, consider the article from the Catholic Encyclopedia.]
Oh Glorious and Immaculate Virgin Mary, Pray for us!