Name of the Day: Miriam

In the Old Testament, she was Moses’ quick-witted big sis. While plenty of Biblical names are white hot, this one remains undiscovered.

Thanks to Toni for suggesting Miriam as Name of the Day.

At first glance, Miriam might appear hopelessly out of fashion. But she shares a first letter and rhythm with one of the hottest names in recent years – Madison. Miri is just as appealing a diminutive as Maddie. And while Miriam isn’t gender neutral, she’s undeniably frills-free.

She’s also a hero name. Back in Ancient Egypt, after the pharaoh ordered the death of all newborn Hebrew boys, it was Miriam who carried her brother to the river. When the pharaoh’s daughter wandered by and discovered the child, Miriam was the one to suggest adoption. To put the cherry on top, she also encouraged the princess to take a nurse for the baby – none other than Jochebed, Moses and Miriam’s mother.

Even if you’re not interested in religion – or the interpretations of Miriam as a feminist icon – it is easy to admire the boldness and cunning that she must have possessed.

Jewish parents have embraced the name for generations. Following the Protestant Reformation, it became one of the Biblical choices increasingly heard in Christian families, too.

The name is sometimes written Myriam, Mariam, Maryam or Mariamne, and, of course, she’s the source of the classic Mary. Her origins are debated:

  • Since Miriam and Moses were living in Egypt, many suggest that mry – love – is the name’s root;
  • Ancient Egyptian names Meritamen, Meryamun and related variants also trace back to mry and seem a logical source;
  • St. Isidore of Seville insisted that Mary meant lady in Syriac, but he might’ve been biased;
  • Many sources tell us that mara meant bitter;
  • There’s also a Hebrew verb that means rebellious – meri is one form of the word;
  • A few connect the name to the phrase ma rama – wished for child.

Since 1880, Miriam has ranged between #174 and #376 in the rankings – the kind of name never wildly popular, but never obscure, either. A few famous Miriams include:

  • Truman Capote penned the short story Miriam about a widow living a solitary life until she meets a girl called Miriam – spookiness follows;
  • Canadian-born starlet Miriam McDonald plays Emma on Degrassi: The Next Generation;
  • Acclaimed writer Miriam Toews lends some literary style to the name;
  • Speaking of literature, a minor character in DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers was called Miriam;
  • Miriam Yeung Chin-Wah was a nurse in Hong Kong until TVB’s New Talent Singing Awards launched her career as a Cantopop singer and actress;
  • Dr. Miriam Stoppard was known for dispensing medical advice on British TV in the 1970s and 80s;
  • Miriam “Ma” Ferguson was elected the first female governor of Texas back in 1925 – after her husband was impeached!

There’s also 2008’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Elizabeth Banks played Miriam “Miri” Linky. Had the film taken off, Miriam might’ve gotten a boost. But it fizzled, and the name remains underused.

Miriam is sensible and strong. She’s not exactly current, and she’s not quite a classic à la Mary. But she is a nice choice if you’re looking for something just a little different.

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13 Comments

I love Miriam!

I’ve read comments that people find it dated and stodgy, but I don’t at all. To me, it sounds fresh, light and musical. I may be biased because the two Miriams I’ve known (Mim and Mimi) are both young and MUCH cooler/prettier than me (sob), but I think it’s a beautiful choice which is somehow so underused. I personally adore the sweet, spunky nickname Mim, but Miri is a lovely option too.

my name is Miriam but spelled Miryam. I have always gone by Mimi because I never cared for my name too much. I am jewish and named after the Miriam in the torah. However, I think that it is interesting to note that in the torah it is not spelled Miriam and actually spelled Miryam. I personally don’t care for my name but I have gotten loads of complements on it. Whenever people ask what my real name is they always reply with something along the lines of “that’s so beautiful” or “I love your name”. So, if anyone is thinking of naming your kid Miriam, I say go for it, everyone I meet seems to like it.

Miriam is my oldest daughter’s name. I love it because it sounds so solid and intelligent. Not a “decorative female” content to look pretty–but a force to be reckoned with. Loved it when I gave it to my daughter 11 years ago, and love it even more now.

My sister’s name is Maryam, which is the Arabic form of Mary. She was named for our paternal grandmother. My own mother says she always had a hard time getting people to understand that my sister’s name is Maryam (Mary with ‘am’ at the end!) and not Miriam or Maryann or Marion. My sister loves her name and doesn’t mind correcting people. I personally prefer Miriam, both the spelling and the pronounciation. I also love the nickname Mia, which my sister occasionally goes by.

Miriam is my husband’s new favorite name for a future daughter. I love it’s sound and history, but I was a tiny bit bothered that it doesn’t feel quite as fresh as some of the names on our list and was maybe too steadfast. It is growing on me by leaps and bounds, though, and may even rise to the top.

I have always loved MIriam. It sounds musical, lyrical; reminds me of wind chimes. It was one of my first choices a few years ago and somehow fell to the wayside; perhaps it’s time to add her back into the mix.

I like Miriam. It’s a sweet, sophisticated name. I don’t find it dated at all. Miri and Mira are cute nicknames and I would definitely consider it as a middle name.

My maternal grandmother is a Mary, plus I know several other Mary’s. It’s a great way to honor my grandma. She’s a nice person for putting up with me and letting me live in her house. lol!

Anya’s middle name is Regina after my paternal grandmother, so giving a second daughter Mary or Miriam as a middle name would ensure that she wouldn’t feel left out.

Miriam is another I just don’t care for. To me, she’s rather classic, but not in a light, feminine way like Jane, Elizabeth or Madeline, but in a heavy, frumpy sort of manner. Eh, she’s a little lacklustre to me and reminds me way too much of Muriel, which I find exceptionally grating!!!

Sorry, she’s a miss for me!

I like that Miriam is familiar but that you don’t bump into one every time you turn around. It’s a classic that will always be around – the fact that it’s multicultural really appeals to me. I love her sound.

I like Miriam. “Zack & Miri Make a P*rno” almost killed Miriam for me, not that it was a horrible movie but wow, if I had thought like that in college, my Mother would have shot me! I think it’s light and lyrical and for me, anything I can get Mimi from, as you know, is a winner for me. But he made me write it off after that movie. 🙁 I firmly like it and would love to meet a few more! Me? I got him to allow Marian/Marion. Which suits me fine! 😀

I was surprised that you called this undiscovered, and was about to argue the point because it is a very traditional Jewish name – but then you covered that. 😉 I know many a Jewish Miriam. As a matter of fact, this name is in the Elijah camp for me. Too Jewish. My cousin is married to a german Mirjam (basically pronounced the same way) and I think that’s a very interesting spin. All in all, the name isn’t particularly offensive, but it is too Old-Testamenty and too old-ladyish for me.

I adore Miriam! It would be on the short list if my other half allowed it, but he’s not a fan. He finds it old and crusty – not at all the image I have of it! I find the name sweet but strong. Also, I really dig Miri or Mira as nicknames.

I know a few Miriams – Jewish and Conservative Christian alike.