The name Mary has become one of the most popular female names in the world thanks to the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ. If you’ve ever wondered what the name Mary means from a biblical perspective, you’ve come to the right place.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: the name Mary comes from the Hebrew name Miryam and means ‘bitterness’, ‘rebelliousness’, or ‘wished-for child’.
In this comprehensive article, we will explore the meaning and significance behind the name Mary in the Bible. We will look at the different women named Mary in the New Testament, the possible Hebrew roots of the name, and the implication and importance the name took on after being given to the mother of Jesus.
Women Named Mary in the New Testament
Mary the Mother of Jesus
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is one of the most famous women in the Bible. According to the Gospels, Mary was a young virgin girl who lived in Nazareth and was betrothed to Joseph. The angel Gabriel visited her and told her that she would conceive and give birth to Jesus, the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38).
Mary responded with faith and acceptance of this incredible calling, though she did not fully understand it (“I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled” Luke 1:38). She gave birth to Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-20).
Mary was present at various points during Jesus’ ministry, though she is mentioned only occasionally. She was present at Jesus’ first miracle, when he turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11).
Mary was also present at Jesus’ crucifixion, where Jesus entrusted her into the care of his disciple John (John 19:25-27). The Gospels portray Mary as a woman of faith who treasured and pondered God’s revelation in her heart (Luke 2:19,51).
Mary Magdalene was a woman who followed Jesus during his ministry. Jesus had cast out seven demons from her, indicating she was spiritually tormented or disturbed (Luke 8:2). Mary Magdalene traveled with Jesus and helped support his ministry financially along with other women (Luke 8:1-3).
She watched Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 27:56) and later came to his tomb to anoint his body, only to find that he had risen from the dead (Matthew 28:1-8). She was the first person to see the resurrected Christ. Jesus told her to tell his disciples the news that he is alive (John 20:11-18).
Mary Magdalene has been unfortunately confused with other women in the Gospels over the years. But she has a unique story of deliverance and became one of Jesus’ closest and most grateful followers.
Mary of Bethany
Mary of Bethany was the sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 11:1) who lived in the village of Bethany just outside Jerusalem. Jesus had a close relationship with this family. Mary’s most famous appearance in the Gospels is when she anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume as he dines at her house (John 12:1-8).
Some people grumbled about the waste, but Jesus praised Mary’s loving and worshipful action. Mary also gained praise from Jesus when she sat listening to his teaching while her sister Martha busied herself with preparations.
Jesus said “Mary has chosen what is better (to listen to his teachings), and it will not be taken away from her. “ (Luke 10:38-42). Mary has been traditionally linked with “the woman who was a sinner” who washed and anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50).
This may or may not be the same Mary.
There are several other Marys mentioned briefly in the Gospels:
- Mary, the mother of James and Joseph/Joses (Matthew 27:56). Possibly the wife of Cleophas.
- Mary, the mother of John Mark and sister of Barnabas (Acts 12:12). The early church met in her home.
- Mary, a Christian in Rome greeted by Paul (Romans 16:6).
So while Mary was a very common female name in first century Palestine, the New Testament records the faith and support of several important Marys during the life and early church of Jesus Christ.
Hebrew Origins and Meaning of the Name
Connection to the Name Miriam
The name Mary likely derives from the Hebrew name Miriam. In the Old Testament, Miriam was the sister of Moses and Aaron. She was a prophetess who led the Israelites in victorious song and dance after they crossed the Red Sea safely while the Egyptians drowned (Exodus 15:20-21).
The name Miriam itself probably originates from an Egyptian root meaning “beloved.” So the Hebrew name Miriam denoted someone beloved and esteemed.
The name Mary gained popularity because of the mother of Jesus Christ. She was a young woman of great faith and virtue. When the angel Gabriel appeared to her and told her she would miraculously bear the Son of God, Mary responded with obedience and reverence (Luke 1:26-38).
Her courageous submission to God’s will makes her an example for all believers.
Meaning ‘Bitterness’ or ‘Rebelliousness’
There are also some who believe the name Mary is derived from the Hebrew word marah, which means “bitterness.” They point to passages where the name is applied to locations associated with hardship and rebellion (Exodus 15:23; Numbers 20:1).
So in this context, Mary could connote one who provokes bitterness or sorrow.
However, this negative meaning seems unlikely considering the popularity of the name Mary in early Christianity. The positive example of the Virgin Mary predominates any connection between “Mary” and bitterness or rebellion.
Meaning ‘Wished-For Child’
Another proposal is that Mary comes from the Egyptian word mry meaning “beloved” or “love.” In a similar vein, some linguists propose the name developed from the Hebrew root mara meaning “to rejoice” or “to be happy.”
Along these lines, Mary denoted a long wished-for child who brought joy to a family.
This meaning fits well with the life of the Virgin Mary. She was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy centuries earlier about a virgin bearing a son called Immanuel, “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:22-23). Mary brought the greatest joy to the world by giving birth to Jesus the Savior.
Significance and Importance of the Name Mary
Mary as a Revered Figure
Throughout history, the name Mary has been revered by many, primarily due to its association with the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Considered a saint and important figure by most Christians, Mary holds great spiritual significance.
Her willingness to accept God’s will and give birth to the son of God established her as a model of virtue and humility to be admired.
Many biblical passages and Christian doctrines have extolled Mary’s virtues over time. For instance, the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary into Heaven have emphasized her purity and status.
Today, over 50 Marian feast days exist that honor events or attributes of the Virgin Mary’s life, demonstrating her continued eminence within Christianity.
Wide Use of Mary as a Given Name
Likely owing to the prominence of the Virgin Mary, the name Mary has remained one of the most frequently given feminine names for centuries. As an Anglicized form of the Hebrew name Miriam or Miryam, Mary has widespread global appeal across multiple cultures and languages.
In the past 100 years alone, Mary ranked as the most popular female given name in the United States for much of the early 20th century. And as of 2021, it still ranked as 126th out of over 5,000 female names, according to Census bureau data.
Its endurance over time and across continents establishes Mary as not just a venerated religious figure, but also an enduringly favored name.
|US Popularity Ranking
|126th most popular (female)
|Most popular (female)
Mary in Bible Prophecy and Typology
Prophesied ‘Virgin with Child’
Mary’s role as the mother of Jesus was prophesied hundreds of years before her birth. Isaiah 7:14 foretold that a “virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This passage is understood by Christians to be a prophecy about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
Matthew 1:22-23 quotes this verse and applies it to Mary and Jesus.
In addition, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, greets Mary by saying “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42). This indicates that Mary was chosen by God for her special role.
Overall, the prophecies about the Messiah’s birth make it clear that Mary would conceive and give birth to Jesus even though she was a virgin.
Mary as a Spiritual Model and Type
Christians see Mary as a model of faith and obedience to God. Despite the shocking news from the angel Gabriel, she responded with belief and acceptance: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Her song of praise in Luke 1:46-55 beautifully expresses her faith in God.
Mary also represents new life and blessing for humanity. Through her son Jesus, salvation was brought into the world. As Jesus says on the cross, “Woman, behold your son!” (John 19:26), Mary becomes a mother for all believers.
She is an archetype or ideal type of the Church, the community of those saved through Christ.
Furthermore, Mary’s perpetual virginity symbolizes the purity and set-apartness of Christ’s birth and mission. Although some Protestants disagree that Mary remained a virgin, the Catholic and Orthodox churches uphold her lifelong virginity as a model of consecrated life devoted to God.
Influence Outside the Bible
Mary, known as Maryam in Arabic, is highly revered in Islam. She is mentioned more times in the Quran than in the entire New Testament and is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran. According to Islamic tradition, Mary was a pious virgin chosen by Allah to be the mother of Jesus through divine intervention.
The Quran states that Mary was dedicated to God’s service by her mother and that God sent the angel Gabriel to announce that she would give birth to Jesus, who would be a great prophet. Some key facts about Mary in Islam include:
- Mary is considered to be a righteous woman who was granted many miracles, including the conception of Jesus without a father.
- Mary received her righteous traits from her parents, as her mother dedicated her to God’s service and her father was old and pious.
- Mary was the only woman directly named in the Quran and she has an entire chapter, Surah Maryam, named after her.
- The Quran states that Mary was visited by angels as a young girl who announced she would give birth to Jesus, the Messiah.
- Mary conceived Jesus while still a virgin, which is seen as a miraculous sign from God in Islam.
In Literature, Art and Culture
The figure of Mary has had a profound cultural influence in literature, art and culture beyond the Bible itself. Some key ways Mary has been depicted include:
Mary has inspired great works of poetry, paintings, architecture, churches, places, and more showing her cultural significance. She represents ideals like purity, virtue, beauty, and motherhood and remains an inspirational figure worldwide today.
As we have explored, the name Mary has deep biblical roots and layers of spiritual significance behind it. From the Hebrew origins linking it to such meanings as ‘bitterness’, ‘rebellion’ and ‘wished-for child’, to the proliferation of the name after being given to the holy mother of Jesus, the name carries rich connotations.
Mary emerged as a revered figure of prophecy, virtue and devotion for Christianity. Her grace-filled submission to bearing the Son of God made her a model for all women of faith. The various women called Mary in the New Testament, from the mother of James to the repentant sinner washing Jesus’ feet with perfume, reveal how the name represented a diversity of spiritual seekers.
Even outside strictly biblical contexts, the resonant power of the name Mary transmitted into other faiths and cultural realms – attesting to how this humble Jewish woman influenced much of world culture by saying ‘yes’ to God over two thousand years ago.