Maureen is the anglicized form of Máirín (pronounced MOI-reen) which is an Irish-Gaelic diminutive of Mary. Not surprisingly, given her importance in the Christian narrative, Mary is one of the most successful female given names in the Western World. As such, it’s a name that has appeared in several ethno-linguistic forms and diminutives throughout Europe since the Middle Ages. The name’s etymology is not entirely certain, though the English form (Mary) evolved from the French Marie and the Latin Maria – all of which were borrowed from the Greek Μαριαμ (Mariam) ultimately derived from the Hebrew מִרְיָם (Miryam). In other words, Miriam, Moses’ sister, from the Biblical Old Testament (originally written in Hebrew) shares the exact same etymological root as the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ mother, from the New Testament (originally written in Greek). Are you following us so far? The Hebrew Miryam is so ancient – one of the first female names to appear in Western Civilization – that etymologists have debated the name’s origin for centuries.
Given Miryam’s birthplace in the Old Testament’s Book of Exodus (Egypt), the most likely origin of the name comes from the Ancient Egyptian element “mry” meaning “beloved” (as a diminutive of Mary, Maureen would therefore mean “little beloved one”). Another theory suggests the name Miryam comes from the Hebrew element “maráh” meaning “to rebel, to be rebellious, to disobey,” in reference to Miryam’s minor rebellion in Exodus when she becomes a little indignant over the fact that her brother Moses is getting all the attention and making all the decisions (God struck Miryam with a minor case of leprosy for her insubordination). Finally, in folk etymology, Mary is said to mean “star of the sea” (stella maris). This “invented” etymology comes from the writings of St. Jerome in the late 4th or early 5th century when he compared the Blessed Mother to a “drop of the sea” – from the Hebrew elements “mar” (a drop) and “yam” (the sea). A scribe later erroneously recorded Jerome’s words as “stella maris” meaning “star of the sea” in Latin – and from this mistake a new etymology was created. In fact, Stella Maris is one of the oldest known epithets for the Virgin Mary.
Given Mary’s Biblical importance as the mother of Jesus, her name was considered too holy for use in earlier medieval times (particularly among the Celtic people), but by the Late Middle Ages, Mary had become the single most successful female name EVER. The Gaelic and Welsh picked up the name in their own native tongues where Mary would become Maureen (Irish), Maura (Scottish) and Mair (Welsh), among several other variations. Common nicknames for Maureen are Mo and Reenie.