The Name Mary

The Name Mary in the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon (Mosiah 3:8; Alma 7:10) twice calls Jesus’ mother Mary, which is the Greek form of Hebrew Miriam. Since the Nephites came from Jerusalem, shouldn’t we expect the Hebrew form in their record?

Angel Gabriel Mary MormonThe Hebrew name Miriam became Mariam and Maria in Greek and Maria in Latin, though the Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote in Greek, rendered it Mariamne. The Latin name was formed as if the final a were the feminine suffix, so the French, taking it to be such, made it a silent e (as almost always in the case of names with the feminine suffix a), giving us Marie. The English form Mary comes from the French. But they all trace back to the Hebrew.

The Greek New Testament usually has Maria for the mother of Jesus, though sometimes Mariam. The latter is the way it appears in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) for the sister of Moses. The use of the form Miriam in the King James version (KJV) Old Testament and Mary in the KJV New Testament is due to the fact that the KJV translation committee comprised 47 men, with subcommittees that decided on transliteration and translation matters. The form Mary had already developed from the French and people knew it as the name of Jesus’ mother, so they decided to keep it. Joseph Smith evidently made the same decision in regard to his translation of the Book of Mormon. Had he given the Hebrew form Miriam instead of Mary, readers would not have known to whom the text referred.