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Israelite Names:  Miriam or Mary.
From History of Christian Names, by Charlotte M. Yonge, 1884.

The sister of Moses and Aaron, who led the songs of the Israelites when they saw their enemies dead upon the sea-shore, was the first owner of that name which was to be the most highly honoured among those of women.

Yet it is a name respecting which there is great contention.  Gesenius derives it from Merî (stubbornness), with the addition of the third person plural, so as to make it mean their rebellion.  Other commentators refer it to the word Marah (bitterness), and thence the bitter gum, myrrh, the same term that was applied to the brackish springs in the desert, and to which the desolate widow of Bethlehem declared her right, when she cried, "Call me not Naomi (pleasant), call me Marah (bitter)."  This is on the whole the most satisfactory derivation, but in the middle ages it was explained as Myrrh of the Sea, Lady of the Sea, or Star of the Sea, the likeness to the Latin, Keltic, and Teutonic mar being probably the guide.  Star of the Sea is the favourite explanation among Roman Catholics, as the loftiest and most poetical, and it is referred to in many of their hymns and other devotional compositions.

Miriam does not seem to have been repeated until after the captivity, when it took the Greek forms of Mariam and Mariamne, and became very frequent among Jewish women, probably in the expectation of the new deliverance from the bondage that galled them like that of Egypt of old.  It was the name of the Asmonean princess in whom the brave Maccabean line was extinguished by Herod the Great; it belonged to three if not to four of the women of the Gospel; and we find it again marking the miserable being who is cited as having fulfilled the most terrible of all the woes denounced by Moses upon the daughters of Jerusalem.

The name of Mariam continued in the East, but was very slow in creeping into the Western Church, though not only the Blessed Virgin herself had borne it, but two very popular saints, namely, the Magdalen, and the Penitent of Egypt, whose legends were both current at a very early period.

The first Maria whom I can find of undoubted western birth was a Spanish maiden, who was martyred by the Moors at Cordova in 851.  Michaelis tells us that the old Spanish name of Urraca is the same as Maria, but this can hardly be true.

It seems to have been the devotion of the Crusaders that first brought Maria into Europe, for we find the first instances about the middle of the twelfth century all at once; Maria of Antioch, a Crusader's daughter, who married the Emperor Manuel Comnenus; her daughter, Maria Comnena, married to the Marquis of Montferrat; Marie, the daughter of Louis VII. of France, and our Eleanor of Guienne, named probably during their Crusader's fervour; then Marie, the translator of the Breton legends for Henry III.; Marie, the nun daughter of Edward I., and at the same time Marie all over the western world.

Probably the addition of the German diminutive chen, in French on, formed the name of

"A bonny fine maid of noble degree,
        Maid Marion called by name."

Very soon had her fame travelled abroad, for in 1332 the play of Robin et Marion was performed by the students of Angers, one of them appearing as a fillette déguisée.  The origin of Marionettes, puppets disguised to play the part of Maid Marion, is thus explained.  They may, however, have received their name from the habit of calling small images of the Blessed Virgin Mariettes, or Marionettes.  Several streets of old Paris, in which were such images, were called Rue des Mariettes, or later, Rue des Marionettes.  All puppets there came to be called Mariettes and Marmousets; and two streets of Paris were down to the last century called Rue des Marmousets.  Henri Etienne says: "Never did the Egyptians take such cruel vengeance for the murder of their cats, as has been wreaked in our days on those who had mutilated some Marmouset or Marionette."  Even the bauble of a licensed fool was a Marotte, from the little head at its point, and the supernatural dolls of sorcerers, in the form of toads or apes, were described as Marionettes in an account of a trial for witchcraft in 1600.  The term Marmoset passed to the daintiest and most elegant of the monkey tribe, by which it is now monopolized.  Marion became a common name in France, and contracted into Manon, and expanded into Marionette, as in a poem of the 13th century where Marion is thus addressed; and in Scotland, where "Maid Marion, fair as ivory bone," likewise figured in rustic pageantry, she took a stronger hold than anywhere else, is in common life yclept Menie, and has escaped her usual fate of confusion with Marianne.  With us, the Blessed Virgin's name, having come through the French, was spelt in their fashion till the translation of the Bible made our national Mary familiar.  Mary II. was the first of our queens who dropped the ie.  The chief contractions and endearments are as follows:

 

English.
Maria
Mary
Marion
Moll
Molly
Polly
Malkin
Mawkes
Mawkin
May*
French.
Marie
Marion?
Manon
Maion
Mariette
Maillard
        (Cambrai)
Italian.
Maria
Marietta
Mariuccia
Spanish.
Marïa
Marinha
Mariquinhas
Mariquita
Maritornes
Keltic.
Mari (W.)
Moissey (Manx)
Mari (Ir.)
Swedish.
Maria
Majken
Bavarian.
Marie
Mariel
Mariedel
Marei
Mareiel
Marl
Medal
Miel
Swiss.
Marie
Mareili
Maga
Maieli
Mija
Mieli
Dutch.
Maria
Marieke
Mike
Russian.
Marija
Maika
Mascha
Mashinka
Polish.
Mary
Marysia
Marynia
Illyrian.
Maria
Marica
Millica
Lusatian.
Mara
Maruscha
Esthonian.
Marri
Mai
Maie
Lapland.
Marja
Hungarian.
Maria
Mari
Marka

* Marriott occurs in a Cornish register as a feminine in 1666.

Our Latin Maria is a late introduction, brought in by that taste which in the last century made everything feminine end with an a.

It is only during the last three centuries that Maria has reigned supreme in Roman Catholic countries, marking the exaggerated devotion paid to the original.  Indeed, the Italian proverb, answering to the needle in a bottle of hay, is "Cercar Maria in Ravenna," so numerous are the Marias there.  Even in Ireland there were few Marys until comparatively recent times; but now the Môr that in some parts of the island was translated by Sarah, is changed into Mary.

Since Marys have been thus multiplied, the attributes of the first Mary have been adopted into the Christian name, and used to distinguish their bearer.  The earliest and best of these was the Italian Maria Annunciata, or Annunziata, contracted into Nunziata; and followed up in Spain by Maria Anonciada; and in France, by Marie Annonciade.  Soon there followed Maria Assunta, in honour of her supposed assumption bodily into glory, but this never flourished beyond Italy, Spain, and her colonies.

France has Marie des Anges, at least as a conventual appellation; as in Spain the votaress of the merciful interceding patroness is called Maria de Mercedes; and she whose parents were mindful of the Seven Sorrows supposed to have pierced the heart of the Holy Mother, would choose for their child Maria de Dolores.  There was a legend that Santiago had seen a vision of the Blessed Virgin standing on a pillar of jasper and bidding him found at Zaragoza the church thence called Neustra Señora del Pilar, whence, in Spain at least, Pilar has become a female name, as Guadalupe has likewise in honour of a miraculous image of St. Mary, preserved in the church of the mountain once covered with hermitages.  Moreover, a district in Mexico, formerly called Tlaltelolco, contained a temple to a favourite goddess of the Aztec race.  After the Spanish conquest, the same site became the scene of a vision of Neustra Señora, who appeared to a Christian Indian, and intimated that a church was there to be built in her honour.  As a token of the reality of the vision, roses burst forth on the bare rock of the Tepeyac, and it further appeared impressed with a miraculous painting, which has been the great subject of adoration from the Mexicans ever since.  Guadalupe, a free translation into Spanish of the native name of Tlaltelolco, has been ever since a favourite name with the damsels of Mexico, and is even adopted by such of the other sex as regard the shrine with special veneration.  Maria del Incarnaçion is also Spanish.  An English gipsy woman lately said 'Carnation' was her daughter's name, and had been her grandmother's.  Was it from this source?

As queen of heaven, Maria has votaries, called in Italy Regina or Reina.  The latter was frequent in early times at Florence.  In France we find Reine and Reinette, and Regina is a favourite in some parts of Germany, where it has been confused with the derivatives of the old Teutonic Ragin, Council.

Since the promulgation of the new dogma, young ladies in Spain have been called Maria de la Concepcion; in Italy, Concetta.  Surely the superstition of these races is recorded in their names.  The custom of adding Maria to a man's name seems to have begun in Italy about 1360, and now most individuals in Italy, and probably likewise in Spain, as well as in the more devout French families, bear the name of Maria; and the old Latin Marius and Virginius, though entirely unconnected except by the sound, have been pressed into the service, and made to do duty as Mario and Virginio in her honour.

Perhaps the Jews had in some degree adopted the Roman fashion of similar names in a family, since the sister of the Blessed Virgin bears the same as her own, and there is a great similarity between those of the sisters of Bethany, which both probably come from mara (bitter), although some deduce Martha from the Aramean mar (a lord), which we often hear as the title of Syrian bishops, as Mar Elias, &c.

Even the earliest writers on the Gospels were at a loss whether to identify the meek contemplative Mary of Bethany, by the woman that was a sinner, who is recorded as performing the same act of devotion, and with Mary Magdalen, once possessed by seven devils and afterwards first witness of the Resurrection.  While inquiry was cautious, legend was bold, and threw the three into one without the slightest doubt, going on undoubtingly to narrate the vain and sinful career of Mary Magdalen, describing her luxury, her robes, and in especial her embroidered gloves and flowing hair, and all the efforts of Martha to convert her, until her final repentance.  The story proceeded to relate how the whole family set out on a mission to Provence, where Martha, by holding up the cross, demolished a terrific dragon; and Mary, after having aided in converting the country, retired to a frightful desert with a skull for her only companion.

It is this legendary Magdalen, whom painters loved to portray in all her dishevelled grief.

The word itself is believed to be a mere adjective of place, meaning that she came from Magdala, which, in its turn, means a tower or castle, and is represented by the little village of Mejdel, on the lake of Tiberias, so that her proper designation would be Mary of Magdala, i.e. of the tower, probably to distinguish her from Mary of Bethany with whom she is confounded.

It is curious to observe how infinitely more popular her name has been than her sister's, i.e. accepting the mediæval belief that they were sisters.  The Marfa of Russia is of course like the English Martha, Matty, Patty, the true housewifely Martha, independent of the legend of the dragon, and has there been a royal name occurring frequently among the daughters of the earlier Tzars; and the Martha used in Ireland is only as an equivalent for the native Erse Meabhdh, Meave, or Mab, once a great Irish princess, who has since become the Marthe and Marthon of the south of France, and the rarer Marta of Italy and Spain, were all from the Provençal dragon-slayer, and as to the popularity of Magdalen, the contractions in the following table will best prove it:

 

English.
Magdalene
Maudlin
Maun
Madeline
German.
Magdalene
Madlen
Lene
Lenchen
Swiss.
Magdalene
Leli
Danish.
Magdelene
Malin
Magli
Mali
Italian.
Maddalena
French.
Magdelaine
Mazaline
—old
Madeleine
Madelon
Polish.
Magdelina
Magdusia
Magdosia
Madde
Servian.
Mandelina
Manda
Spanish.
Magdalena
Madelena
Lusatian.
Madlena
Marlena
Marlenka
Madlenka
Esthonian.
Madli
Mai
Male
Hungarian.
Magdalena
Magdolna
Lettish.
Madlene
Maddalene
Madde

The penitent Mary of Egypt has had her special votaresses.  Maria Egyptiaca was a princess of Oettingen in 1666.*

* Smith's Dictionary of the Bible; Michaelis; Jameson's Legends of the Madonna; Sacred and Legendary Art; Romancero del Cid; Warton's History of Poetry; Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie; O'Donovan, On Irish Names; Festivals and their Household Words; Christian Remembrancer; Mme. Calderon de la Borca, Mexico.

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