I always had a problem with my name growing up. I wondered why my parents didn’t give me an easy-to-pronounce name. Rocio, although beautiful when pronounced rightly in Spanish, felt like a burden when teachers at school tried different variations: Rocchio, Roxio, Rokio. I could get started on a list of funny and embarrassing moments tied to my name, but the point is that it was a struggle. I did not want to accept my name.
It wasn’t until I was a young adult beginning my journey of discerning religious life that the Lord started to do something unexpected: He began to connect the dots between my name, my identity, and my mission.
Accepting My Own Name
Through a series of events, including a prophetic encounter you can read about here, I began to take ownership of my name and what the Lord had entrusted me with. I discovered that in my name, which translates to "dew," He was inviting me to be a consolation to others and to be intimately attune to the Holy Spirit of which dew is a Biblical and liturgical image. The things I learned during those years remain with me even now, since the Lord was redeeming such an essential part of my identity: my name.
When we think about the feast day of the Most Holy Name of Mary, some might think, what’s the big fuss? Why have a whole day dedicated to her name? We love her and all of that, but isn’t that a bit excessive?
Well, maybe I would have been on board with that same thinking before– but not anymore. Now, I know well from experience the connection and importance between who we are, the name we are given, and the mission we are entrusted with.
The woman chosen from all time for the most important task of bearing in her body, feeding at her breasts, and holding to her heart the Savior of the world and the Son of the Most High did not just happen to have the name Mary (Mariam in Greek/Miryam in Hebrew). It must have been for a reason. Although the exact definitions of the name of Mary vary, I think it would help us in our devotion to take a look at the different meanings and what they can tell us about her identity and mission.
The Holy Name of Mary // Sea of Bitterness or Drop of the Sea?
Among some of the translations found for the name of Mary, the connection to water is common. Some say Our Lady’s name could mean either a sea of bitterness or a drop of the sea. I invite you to reflect with me today on the possibility of Our Lady’s name meaning "a sea of bitterness." Why would this be a fitting name for the Mother of Christ?
The sorrows our Mother was to undergo were possibly alluded to in her name. It would suffice to remember the words of Simeon in the temple at the entrance of the holy pair with the Messiah in their arms to understand why Our Lady’s identity and mission could be tied to bitterness. After being moved by the Spirit to proclaim what Jesus would be, namely salvation (see Luke 2:27, 30), Simeon looks to Mary and confesses rightly that a sword will pierce her own heart (2:35).
To think of Our Lady as being a “sea of bitterness” is not to deem that her heart was full of bitterness and ill-will because of the suffering she was going to pass through. Instead, we can understand it to be a reference to the immense sorrows of Our Lady’s heart: the sorrow that came with knowing in anticipation the suffering the Messiah was to undergo, witnessing the rejection of His own people, and the torments of her Son during the Passion. Being unable to relieve her child of this suffering would be enough to cause an increase of pain in her own heart–an experience comparable to a sea of pain, a whole ocean of bitterness.
She who experienced immense heartache was entrusted with a mission: to accompany all of the children entrusted to her from the Cross (see John 19:26) on their own journey of heartache and bitterness. She would be the model for her children on how to carry these things in one’s heart (see Luke 2:51). Some translations say she “treasured” them in her heart. The things she did not understand, the pain of separation already experienced by them in the young life of Jesus, the expectation of all that was to come– she treasured all of these things. She did not become bitter because of it, although she was only just beginning to walk on the shores of this sea.
May we learn from her the mysterious art and mission of remaining joyful in the midst of bitter anguish.
The Name of Mary: Beloved
The name of Mother Mary can be found in the Old Testament, belonging also to the sister of Moses (see Numbers 26:59). Miriam was considered a prophet and led the people in praise of the Lord who had freed them (see Exodus 15:20-21). Because the Israelites were in Egypt during this time, it is important to take into consideration what the Egyptian root of the name Mary/Miriam could be.
One of the possibilities of the Egyptian meaning of the name is "beloved" (source). One of my favorite titles of Mary is her as the Beloved Daughter of the Father. It cannot be denied that she was beloved by God. Here one might be tempted to say that she was so loved by the Father because of the importance of her mission. But we would be forgetting one important thing: her identity precedes her mission. Mary is loved first because of who she is. Her belovedness was not bound up to how faithfully and fruitfully she would fulfill her mission–which she did perfectly beyond exaggeration–but her loveable-ness is found first in the essence of her being Mary.
The Father looked upon her and loved her. In the same way, before all that we do and any mission we may feel called to fulfill, you and I are loved first and foremost because of who we are. We are loved because we exist and we exist because we were loved into existence. Our origin and our destiny is love. How fitting it is, then, for Our Lady’s name to mean “beloved” since we know this to be true about ourselves! She is the beloved daughter of a very good Father, the beloved mother and sister (see Matthew 12:50) of Christ her Savior, and the beloved espoused by the Spirit.
Her Name Remains a Model
Can you and I see in Mother Mary a model of living out one’s belovedness? She lived this in total trust and abandonment to the Father. May we also learn to live from our identity, dependent not on our own strength or the loftiness of our mission to somehow earn His love but by realizing we are already the beloved right here and now.
May she who held a sea of bitterness in her heart and was at the same time beloved, pray for us to receive and accept our names, our identities, and our mission on this earth.
Consider honoring the name of Mary today by praying with some of the beautiful devotions and quotes from the Saints listed here.