The name Maryam is not originally an Arabic word. Some say that it is the Persian or Hebrew name for Mary mother of Jesus and that Maryam is its Arabic equivalent. Just as there is differences of opinion in its origin, there are also doubts and differing over what this word means.
What is clear is the name is exclusively for the female gender and was the name of the Prophet Isa’s mother, may peace be upon the both of them. When someone names their daughter this name, the intended purpose is that the parents hope that she will have the virtues of Maryam: piety, purity, and steadfastness.
Dedicated to Allah
Maryam spent her entire life in the service and worship of her Lord. Both of her parents were righteous people. When she found out that she was pregnant, she made du’a to Allah and dedicated her child to the worship of Him. Allah mentions this in the Quran. He says,
إِذْ قَالَتِ امْرَأَتُ عِمْرَانَ رَبِّ إِنِّي نَذَرْتُ لَكَ مَا فِي بَطْنِي مُحَرَّرًا فَتَقَبَّلْ مِنِّي ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ – 3:35
[Mention, O Muhammad], when the wife of ‘Imran said, “My Lord, indeed I have pledged to You what is in my womb, consecrated [for Your service], so accept this from me. Indeed, You are the Hearing, the Knowing.”
Worshipper in the Temple
Although Imran’s wife gave birth to a girl, she raised her with the intention to be a servant of Allah.1 At this time, women were not allowed to serve in the temple. However, when she was old enough she was taken to the temple and she was looked after by the Prophet Zakariyyah, who was one of her relatives.
Maryam was a devout worshipper and depended on Allah for everything, asking no one for anything. Zakariyyah, being the one in charge of her, would go to her prayer room and check on her. But every time he went, he would find that she already had provisions.
No one entered her room but Zakariyyah. So of course, he questioned her. And she remarked that it was from Allah who gives to whomever He wills without account.
Allah blessed Maryam with a high status in this world. He preferred her above all women of the world. Allah says,
وَإِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلَائِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ اصْطَفَاكِ وَطَهَّرَكِ وَاصْطَفَاكِ عَلَىٰ نِسَاءِ الْعَالَمِينَ – 3:42
And [mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds.
And it is because of this preference from Allah that Maryam was chosen to be the mother of the Messiah, Isa. She conceived him without having any relations with a man. Allah informs us about Isa’s conception and birth in Suratul Aali Imraan.
We learn there that Allah gave her son the name Isa and informed her that he would be distinguished among the people and that he would speak while he was still in the cradle.2
This suprised her and when she questioned how this could be. The angel Jibreel told her that all Allah has to say if He wants anything to occur is to say, “Be, and it is.”
A girl child given this name is being honored with having the name of the best of the women in her time. And it is her parents’ hope that she will have attributes of Maryam, the mother of Isa.
- Surah 3:36-37
- Surah 3:45-47