What's the meaning of the name "Miriam"/"מרים"? I thought it might be from the root "מרי", which means "rebellion", in which case the name means "their rebellion", which might reflect Miriam/Puah and Yocheved/Shifra's (according to the opinion that they were the same women) act of rebelling against Pharaoh.

Is this the case? If not, is there a different explanation of the name?


1 Answer 1


According to Shir HaShirim Rabbah 2:11, the name is derived from the word מרר, bitter, and reflects the fact that the Jews’ slavery became harsher around the time of her birth.

עִקַּר שִׁעְבּוּדָן שֶׁל יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּמִצְרַיִם שְׁמוֹנִים וְשֵׁשׁ שָׁנִים הָיוּ מִשָּׁעָה שֶׁנּוֹלְדָה מִרְיָם [פרושה, שלכך נקרא שמה מרים, על שום שנאמר (שמות א, יד): וימררו את חייהם, כי מרים לשון מרור הוא].

The main enslavement of the Jews in Mitzraim was 86 years, from the time that Miriam was born. That is, it’s for that reason she was called Miriam, reflecting that which is said (Shemos 1:14), “And they embittered (וימררו) their lives,” for Miriam (מרים) is a language of bitterness (מרור).

  • From what I have read here, the name Miryam could in fact be of Egyptian origin. In any case, the answer you cite is not the only possible etymology. Commented Feb 16, 2020 at 3:14
  • @Tim Biegelsen I heard that theory, and the same is theorized about Aharon and Moshe, but if you go by the well-known midrash that Bnei Yisrael didn't change their names, then it doesn't make sense - three siblings from an important family having Egyptian names?
    – Harel13
    Commented Feb 16, 2020 at 5:51
  • @Harel13 Well in the case of Moses' name, the Torah itself provides an exegesis: "ki min hamayim m'shitihu", i.e. Moses' name was explained as an anacronym of sorts recording how he was found in the river. But I am not aware of anything comparable for Miryam's name, hence I make the suggestion. Commented Feb 16, 2020 at 6:15

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