Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Name in the Spotlight: Mara

There are some names that seem to fit all the criteria, until you get down to their meanings. While not everyone cares for established meanings, a lot of people still prefer to use a name that has a good one. Names such as Casimir, usually thought to mean 'to destroy peace' or 'great destroyer', and Mallory, 'unfortunate', are just some examples of nice names with not so nice meanings. Mara is another one of them.

Its negative associations can be traced back to the Old Testament and the Book of Ruth. After the death of her husband and sons, Naomi, Ruth's mother-in-law, calls herself Mara, meaning 'bitterness' in Hebrew. However, the bad connotations don't end there. Mara, also known as Marzanna, is the Slavic goddess of winter, death and harvest. In Poland there is a Pagan custom of drowning an effigy of Marzanna to celebrate rebirth and the end of winter. When the goddess is referred to as Mara, it is often associated with nightmares and spirits. Similarly, the Hindu goddess of death also goes by the name.

On the flip side, Mara is the Croatian and Hungarian form of Mary, which although usually thought to have the meaning 'sea of bitterness', is now most often believed to come from an Egyptian name made up of elements that mean 'beloved'. For anyone seeking more positive religious associations, the Aramaic word for Lord comes from mara, meaning 'lord or master'.

Alternatively, it could come from a Hebrew verb that means 'rebellion', which is not exactly a negative. Sometimes a rebellious attitude is just the thing - it can even change the world. For something more calm and beautiful, there is mara, connected to the Gaelic word muir meaning 'sea'. It even ticks the box for anyone wanting a Hollywood inspired name: actresses and sisters Kate Mara and Rooney Mara (real name Patricia) have added some star quality to sweet Mara, perhaps even made her more edgy. 

Most names can often hide wonderful meanings. All we have to do is dig a little and we can find them. Of course, a name's meaning can change from person to person. It's influenced by the parents' lives and their own stories. No one name will ever mean the same, no matter what the internet says. 

Clearly this is something a number of parents are aware of, because Mara, with all its initial 'unpleasantness', has continuously been used. In the US, it entered the top 1000 in 1950, and it has yet to leave. It may lurk around the bottom of the chart, but it has been hanging on for more than 60 years. In England & Wales, it sees very modest use, but 19 girls were given the name in 2010, and it shares its place in the chart (#1520) with  names which usually get more attention that she does, such as Matilde, Viola, Laney and Willa.