Hebrew word of the week: Miriam

Thanks to Miriam, Moses’ sister, the prophetess and singer-dancer, as well as Mary, the mother of Jesus in the New Testament, this name (with its varieties) is one of the most common in the world. The name’s origin seems to be Egyptian, meaning “wished-for child,” derived from myr (“beloved”) or mr (“love”).

More traditional explanations (as by Rashi) include the Hebrew mar (“bitter”) or meri (“rebellion”), signifying the bitter slavery in Egypt and the wish to rebel.

Variations of the name include Maryam (Greek-Christian; Arabic-Islamic), Maria (Latin), Maliah (Hawaiian), Mary (English, Christian, but occasionally Jewish, as well), Mira/Miri/Mimi (Israeli), Mirele (Yiddish) and combinations such as Marianna, Mary Kay, etc. Even Mayim (best known for actress Mayim Bialik) is a variant of Miriam.

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.