On September 12th the Church venerates the holy name of the Blessed Virgin Mary because of her unique privilege as the Mother of God, the holiest of all God’s creatures, the Queen of Heaven and Earth.
Her name is therefore a royal one of the highest order, and as such should be given the greatest honor after that of her Divine Son, Jesus Christ.
What’s in a Name?
Historically, especially in the Catholic Bible and Jewish tradition, names are very important and often contain great significance and meaning.
A few of the many names that had great significance in the Bible are Abraham (“father of a multitude), Sarah (“mother of nations”), Israel (“having power with God”), Peter (“rock”) , and of course Jesus (“God saves”).
When names are providentially given by God as recorded in Sacred Scripture, they are often a clue to His future plans for that person and a sign of their role in salvation history. Mary’s name is no different. She has the role par excellence in salvation history as the Christ-bearer, the mother of the world’s Savior.
So, what does the name “Mary” mean?
The answer to this question is not exactly straightforward and the name can have several meanings. It is uncertain which ancient language “Mary” is derived from (whether Egyptian or Hebrew), what specific root word it stems from, and what senses of grammar are involved with its interpretation. However, there are several good candidates for root words that the name “Mary” could be derived from.
Mary’s name could be derived from any (or more) of these meanings:
“bitterness”, “sea”, “bitter sea”, “light”, “Star of the Sea”, “Lady of the sea”, “myrrh of the sea”, “mistress of the sea”, “loved by the Lord”, “Lady”, “beautiful one”, “beautiful lady”, and “ruling one.”
What is interesting is that all of these candidates for the meaning of Mary’s name fit with what the Church teaches about the theological significance of the Mother of God.
7 quotes from the saints, scholars, and mystics on the Holy Name of Mary
- “Let me say something concerning this name also, which is interpreted to mean Star of the sea, and admirably suits the Virgin Mother.” –St. Bernard
- “Mary means enlightener, because she brought forth the Light of the world. In the Syriac tongue, Mary signifies Lady.” –St. Isidore of Seville
- “Mary means Star of the sea, for as mariners are guided to port by the ocean star, so Christians attain to glory through Mary’s maternal intercession.” –St. Thomas Aquinas
- “Therefore a certain Star has risen for us today: Our Lady, Saint Mary. Her name means Star of the sea; no doubt the Star of this sea which is the world. Therefore, we ought to lift up our eyes to this Star that has appeared on earth today in order that she may lead us, in order that she may enlighten us, in order that she may show us these steps so that we shall know them, in order that she may help us so that we may be able to ascend. And therefore it is a beautiful thing that Mary is placed in this stairway of which we are speaking, there where we must begin to climb. As the Evangelist says, Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary, so immediately at the very moment of our conversion she appears to us and receives us into her care and enlightens us in her light and accompanies us along this laborious path.” –St. Aelred
- “God the Father gathered all the waters together and called them the seas or maria [Latin, seas]. He gathered all His grace together and called it Mary or Maria . . . This immense treasury is none other than Mary whom the saints call the ‘treasury of the Lord.’ From her fullness all men are made rich.” –St. Louis de Montfort
- “This most holy, sweet and worthy name was ’eminently fitted to so holy, sweet and worthy a virgin. For Mary means a bitter sea, star of the sea, the illuminated or illuminatrix. Mary is interpreted Lady. Mary is a bitter sea to the demons; to men she is the Star of the sea; to the Angels she is illuminatrix, and to all creatures she is Lady.” – St. Bonaventure
- “Look to the star of the sea, call upon Mary … in danger, in distress, in doubt, think of Mary, call upon Mary. May her name never be far from your lips, or far from your heart … If you follow her, you will not stray; if you pray to her, you will not despair; if you turn your thoughts to her, you will not err. If she holds you, you will not fall; if she protects you, you need not fear; if she is your guide, you will not tire; if she is gracious to you, you will surely reach your destination.” –St. Bernard
Prayer from the Mass for the Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary
“Lord our God,
when your Son was dying on the altar of the cross,
he gave us as our mother
the one he had chosen to be his own mother,
the Blessed Virgin Mary;
grant that we who call upon
the holy name of Mary, our mother,
with confidence in her protection
may receive strength and comfort in all our needs. Amen.”
This article has been updated and was originally published in September 2015. © The Catholic Company