Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Miriam
Miriam is a Hebrew name (Miryam), which is believed to have been an Egyptian name originally, derived from the element “mry” meaning ‘beloved’. There are other unproven theories as to the name’s etymology, including ‘rebelliousness’ and ‘wished for child’. The name Miriam is borne from the Bible, specifically the book of Exodus in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible, as the older sister of Moses and Aaron. During the time of Moses’ birth, the Pharaoh had orders in place to kill all newborn Israelite boys. In order to save his life, Moses’ mother (Jochebed) set the infant afloat in a reed basket on the Nile River. Miriam was appointed to watch over the baby, and when she saw the Pharaoh’s daughter take pity on the child and retrieve him from the water to take him home, Miriam offered the princess to find an Israelite woman to nurse him (thus cleverly returning Moses to his own mother). Oh, and ancient women belonged to an early version of the La Leche League, in that a typical weaning would happen between the ages of three and six. After that, Moses was returned to Pharaoh’s court, but not before understanding his Hebrew heritage. Miriam is also considered a prophetess in Judeo-Christian tradition who bravely helped lead the Israelites out of Egypt (well, actually God did most of the work by sending the Ten Plagues upon Egypt and giving Moses the power to part the Red Sea). After the Israelites crossed the sea safely, Moses sent the waters back down on Pharaoh’s army and drowned them. At which point in time, Moses and his sister Miriam lead their people in a victory song [Exodus 15]. Later in the Bible, Miriam and Aaron become a little indignant that Moses is getting all the attention and seems to be making all the decisions [Numbers 12]. “Has the Lord not spoken through us also?” they huffily ask each other. Apparently the Lord didn’t appreciate their insubordination, so Miriam was struck down with leprosy. Not to fear, Moses to the rescue! By uttering five words: “O God, please heal her” the Lord grants Moses’ wish, but not without making Miriam suffer for another week of punishment (sort of a harsher version of a “time-out” from your Father). In any case, Miriam is greatly revered in the Jewish tradition and her name has long been in use in honor of this strong and feisty woman. Arguably one of the first women-libber’s, we can’t really blame old Miriam for wanting more power. Miriam was more widely adopted among English-speakers after the Protestant Reformation. Today, Miriam is a high ranking name in Austria, Spain and Catalonia.