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Meaning & Origins

Originally a Middle English Anglicized form of French Marie, from Latin Maria. This is a New Testament form of Miriam, which St Jerome derives from elements meaning ‘drop of the sea’ (Latin stilla maris, later altered by folk etymology to stella maris ‘star of the sea’). Mary was the name of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, who has been the subject of a cult from earliest times. Consequently, the name was extremely common among early Christians, several saints among them, and by the Middle Ages was well established in every country in Europe at every level of society. It has been in use ever since, its popularity in England having been relatively undisturbed by vagaries of fashion until the 1960s, when it began to decline sharply. In the New Testament, Mary is also the name of several other women: Mary Magdalene (see Madeleine); Mary the sister of Martha, who sat at Jesus's feet while Martha served (Luke 10:38–42; John 11:1–46; 12:1–9) and who came to be taken in Christian tradition as symbolizing the value of a contemplative life; the mother of St Mark (Colossians 4:10); and a Roman matron mentioned by St Paul (Romans 16:6).
7th in the U.S.
English and Scottish: patronymic from the medieval personal name Nel or Neal, Anglo-Scandinavian forms of the Gaelic name Niall (see Neill). This was adopted by the Scandinavians in the form Njal and was introduced into northern England and East Anglia by them, rather than being taken directly from Gaelic.
39th in the U.S.

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