The meaning of Miriam is quite disputed. In our culture most consider it a Hebrew name that is the first variation of Mary. Mary and Miriam have several theories regarding their origins. The most published definition is “bitter” but I believe it’s actually “beloved”. If Miriam were originally a Hebrew name bitterness would apply as “mr” in Hebrew is bitter. “yam” is sea. So in Hebrew the name means sea of bitterness. However, there is evidence (inscriptions in the pyramids) that the Egyptians had used the names before the Hebrews. It was adopted by the Hebrews to fit into the Egyptian culture. (Similar to if if someone immigrated to America today and named their child Sofia to fit in with our culture.) Many Egyptian names back then included “mr” as it means loved. Another possible Egyptian translation is “Mirror of God”.
Though I don’t consider Miriam to be Hebrew in origin, it’s history in the Bible and Torah is significant. As Moses’ sister she led the women out of Egypt and taught them the Torah, just Moses did for the men. From the time she was a very young girl she also assisted in delivering babies and sparing the lives of the boys that the Pharaoh decreed were supposed to be killed. When her father and other men began divorcing their wives for fear of having male sons, Miriam convinced them to remarry. She also told her parents that they’d give birth to Moses, who would save them all and she’s the one who saved him by putting him in a basket and then helped the Pharaoh’s daughter care for him when he was found. Though I was brought up Catholic, I am no longer part of organized religion. However, I do still find certain stories and characters in holy texts inspirational. Miriam is definitely one of my favorites! In recent decades Miriam has been seen as a symbol of feminism within Jewish communities.
Miriam Makeba was a singer, activist and, well… pretty much everything. Known by some as Mama Africa her life is extremely fascinating and inspiring. She wasn’t expected to survive birth, spent the first 6 months of her life living in a jail, her father died when she was young and she was married at 17 to a man who beat her. None of this stopped her from achieving international fame, but fame got her exiled from her home in South Africa, where her family still resided. It was at this point she began speaking out about the white minority government in Africa. There’s no way I can do justice to her in this blog post. She was talented, brave, confident and she also provided the world with amazing music. She stayed true to herself and her culture instead of trying to fit into the mold of the successful artists of the time. By exposing the world to her African style, she opened their minds to discuss moral and political issues as well. She spoke to the United Nations twice and was involved in many political movements and performances. She says she didn’t sing about politics, she sang about the truth and of her own life.
Miriam Leslie was an author, publisher, aristocrat and woman’s suffrage supporter. She was born to a noble family but was never given much in terms of “love and merriment” as she said herself. In the late 1860s the editor of Frank Leslie’s Lady’s Magazine became ill. She volunteered to take over the job while forfeiting the salary to the sick editor. When he died, she took over permanently and this of how she came to marry Frank Leslie. When Frank died she took over the magazine, immediately making it more successful. When she died she left her money to Carrie Chapman Catt for the woman’s suffrage movement.
Speaking of publishing, Miriam Goldberg also took over her husbands publication, Intermountain Jewish News. Under her leadership the paper began to take controversial stands. Miriam believed in presenting all sides of the issues that they covered, something I feel very strongly should always be done.
Miriam Rivera is a transgender TV personality that has starred in several reality shows and has been a pioneer for the transgender community. Her courage to be herself has helped normalize lives of transgender people to those who have no similar experiences within their own lives. She has never had gender the reassignment surgery because she loves and accepts her body as is. (I’m not at all against gender reassignment surgery, I think each individual should have the body they ate most comfortable in. But I do think her acceptance of herself is inspiring.)
Miriam Yalan-Shteklis was a talented children’s poet who’s works taught lessons without preaching, didn’t always dissolve adults of all blame (as most literature for children do) and showed children expressing a wide range of emotions, not just a happy ending. Similarly, Miriam Roth wrote books now considered children’s book classics and was a pioneer for preschool education in Israel. Several other Miriams have also had success writing for adults. Miriam Ben-Porat was the first female Supreme Court Judge in Isreal and the first female State Comptroller, a role in which she was extremely successful and had a very positive influence. Several other singers, Olympic athletes and actresses bear the name. So, I’d definitely there are very strong feminine role models associated with this name, a big perk for me when choosing names!
Miriam is also the name of the title character in a short story by Truman Capote. Is the story any good? I don’t know. What’s it about? I don’t know. I didn’t read anything about it because Truman Capote is one of my favorite writers so I’d like to read the story very soon.
Adorable nicknames include: Mira, Miri, Mim, Mia, Ria, Mimi… and Meerkat!