What does the Holy Name of Mary Mean? Saints Jerome and Bonaventure tell us

According to tradition, God Himself named the infant girl who would become the Mother of God. The Archangel Gabriel appeared to Saint Joachim and instructed him to name the girl “Mary.” The Greek Mariam is usually thought to derive from the Hebrew Miriam, which means “bitterness.”

Saint Bonaventure observes that Mary’s name in in Hebrew is “bitter sea” (mara = bitter; yam = sea), in Latin it means “seas” and in Aramaic (the domestic language of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph) it means “Lady” or “Sovereign.”

Saint Bonaventure writes: “This most holy, sweet and worthy name was ’eminently fitted to so holy, sweet and worthy a virgin. For Mary means a bitter sea, star of the sea, the illuminated or illuminatrix. Mary is interpreted Lady. Mary is a bitter sea to the demons; to men She is the Star of the sea; to the Angels She is illuminatrix, and to all creatures She is Lady.”

I like the Aramaic version the best: Lady or Sovereign. Saint Jerome, with his linguistic exposure to the Christian East noted this Aramaic interpretation of “Lady” for Mary as most appropriate.

In Aramaic or Syriac, the word Mar means Lord. In that tradition, both saints and bishops are given the title Mar. Incidentally, this is why the Church founded in India by Saint Thomas is called the Mar Thoma Church. Mar is akin to Dominus in Latin or Lord or Sir in English. Mary’s name then is a regal title and this best expresses the message of Saint Gabriel to Saint Joachim and Saint Anne.

The Aramaic Mariam as Lady corresponds to Madonna in Italian (My Lady), Notre Dame in French (Our Lady). Hence, the Queenship of Mary is contained in her name.

“The name of Mary is a name of salvation for those who are regenerated; it is the insignia of virtue, the honor of chastity, the sacrifice agreeable to God, the virtue of hospitality, the school of sanctity, a name altogether maternal.” – Saint Peter Chrysologus d. 450

Feast Day of the Name of Mary: September 12

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