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Mary Name Meaning: Origin, Popularity & Nicknames

Learn about the name Mary including the meaning, gender, origin, popularity, and more.

Mary Overview

  • Meaning: Mary means “bitter sea,” “rebellious,” and “beloved.”
  • Gender: Mary is traditionally a girl’s name.
  • Origin: Mary is an English name with French, Latin, and Hebrew roots.
  • Pronunciation: Mary is pronounced, “MAIR-ee.”
  • Popularity: Mary is a very popular name and was number 133 for baby girls in the United States in 2021.
  • Nicknames: Mae, Maisy, Mamie, May, Mamie, Mimi, Minnie, Mitzi, Molly, Polly, Ray.
  • Variations: Maartje, Mair, Máire, Maja, Mara, Maren, Mari, Maria, María, Marie, Marja, Marya, Maryam, Miriam.
  • Namesakes: Mary-Kate Olsen, Mary Shelley.

Mary is one of the most popular names in recorded history. It has a remarkable origin story and a deep significance to many cultures. Read on to find out more.

What Does Mary Mean?

Mary is a special and ancient name used by many cultures. One can trace it back to the Hebrew girl’s name Miryam, also spelled Miriam. The most common meanings are “bitter sea,” “rebellious,” and “beloved” (1). Mary evokes strength, courage, and beauty.

No one knows definitively where the name Miryam came from or what it means. The name appears in the Hebrew Bible, most famously as the name of Moses’ sister. It is most likely a Hebrew or Egyptian name.

In Hebrew, “mara” means “rebellious” and “yam” means “sea.” If the name has Egyptian influences, it could come from the ancient Egyptian Mery, meaning “beloved” (2).

Today, Mary is associated with the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ in the Christian Bible. As a result, the name often represents purity, motherhood, and faith.

What Is the Origin of the Name Mary?

The name Mary originates from the Hebrew name Miryam. It is most prominently the name of Moses’ sister in the Hebrew Bible. It is also the name of the mother of Jesus in the Christian New Testament.

In the Septuagint—the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible—and the New Testament, Miryam is transliterated into Greek as María. The earliest Christians had a Greek textual culture, so the name of the Virgin Mother was widely known as María.

When Latin became a more dominant language in Christian culture, María became Maria. The Latin form was adopted by many other cultures in multiple languages.

The English version of the name was inspired by the French variant, Marie. In Middle English, Marie turned into Mary.

How Popular Is the Name Mary?

Mary is an astoundingly popular name. For the last one hundred years, Mary has been one of the most popular baby girl names in the United States.

From 1900 to 1961, Mary was the most popular girl name in the US. The name only slightly dropped in the subsequent decades, staying within the top 50 for the rest of the 20th Century (3).

In 2021, Mary ranked 133rd for baby girls.

How Do I Pronounce Mary?

Mary is pronounced, “MAIR-ee.” When spoken aloud, Mary should rhyme with the word “very.”

Is Mary a Boy or Girl Name?

Mary is traditionally a girl’s name. It was widely popularized because of Christianity.

However, Mary and other variations of Mary can also be a male or gender-neutral name. It is also worth noting that one of the people named Miriam mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (1 Chronicles 4:17) was most likely a man.

Variations of Mary

Almost every language and culture has its variation of Mary, such as:

  • Maartje (Dutch)
  • Mair (Welsh)
  • Máire (Irish Gaelic)
  • Maja (Swedish)
  • Mara (Russian)
  • Maren (German)
  • Mari (Norwegian)
  • Maria (Italian)
  • María (Spanish)
  • Marie (French)
  • Marja (Finnish)
  • Marya (Polish)
  • Maryam (Arabic)
  • Miriam (Hebrew)

Nicknames for Mary

There are several common nicknames for Mary. Some of these are so common that they are now used as given names, and you may be surprised that some originally started as a nickname for Mary. Nicknames for Mary include:

  • Mae
  • Maisy
  • Mamie
  • May
  • Mamie
  • Mimi
  • Minnie
  • Mitzi
  • Molly
  • Polly
  • Ray

Similar Names to Mary

If you are interested in names similar to Mary, you may want to look at other popular names that appear in the Bible, such as:

Middle Names for Mary

Mary is a classic name, and many names would work well as a middle name, like:

Sibling Names for Mary

Various names are well-suited as sibling names for Mary. Some people may want to choose names that have similar religious themes, including:

For a brother:

For a sister:

Famous People Named Mary

Because Mary is such an old name, there have been many famous people named Mary. One example is Mary, Queen of Scots. Other famous Marys are:

  • Mary I of England: Queen of England from 1553 to 1558.
  • Mary II of England: Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1689-1694.
  • Mary Baker Eddy: American founder of Christian Science.
  • Mary Jackson: American NASA engineer.
  • Mary Johnson: Americanblues singer.
  • Mary Todd Lincoln: Former First Lady of the United States and wife of Abraham Lincoln.
  • Mary-Kate Olsen: American fashion designer and actor.
  • Mary Shelley: British author of “Frankenstein.”

Mary in Popular Culture

The name Mary is frequently used in fictional works. Some examples of the name Mary in popular culture include:

  • Mary Conner: Character in the television series “Roseanne.”
  • Mary Crawley: Character in the television series “Downton Abbey.”
  • Mary Jane Watson: Character in “Spider-Man.”
  • Mary Jensen: Character in “There’s Something About Mary.”
  • Mary Lennox: Character in “The Secret Garden.”
  • Mary Poppins: The titular character in “Mary Poppins.”
  • Mary Richards: Main character in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Mary FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the name Mary.

What Was Mary’s Real Name?

Since English speakers know the Virgin Mother from Christianity as Mary, they may be curious to know her original name. The historical Mary probably spoke Aramaic, so she would have used the Aramaic version of the name: Maryam or Mariam.

She only became known as Maria due to the Greek (later translated to Latin) texts that made her famous.

What Does Mary Mean Spiritually?

If you are Christian, the name Mary will hold a lot of spiritual significance. Many Christians view Mary as representing the first believer or Christian disciple. Some Christian sects describe Mary as the throne of God.

Thus, from a Christian perspective, Mary is one of the most spiritually powerful names you can have.

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