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Maria: The History Behind Greece's Most Popular Female Name

“The Dormition of the Virgin Mary” by Gherardo Starnina. Wikimedia Commons

As Greeks around the world prepare to celebrate “Summer Easter” on Thursday, as the Dormition of the Virgin Mary is called in Greek popular tradition, the nation is also ready to honor those bearing Greece’s most popular female name, Maria.
August 15 is an annual bank holiday not only in Greece, but in most Catholic and Orthodox Christian countries around the world.
Catholics celebrate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven on this day, while the Orthodox celebrate what is called Her “Dormition,” since the Orthodox Church does not teach that Her body ascended into the heavens.
In both cases, however, the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is the figure that is at the center of these festive celebrations across the Christian world.
Thus, in countries with the tradition of celebrating saints’ names such as Greece, her name is also honored and celebrated on this special feast day.
However, the name “Mary” itself is not the original name by which the Mother of Jesus was known. Actually, this is a later, Latinized, version of the older name “Maria.”
This name was first found recorded in the New Testament of the Christian Bible.
Since Greek was the original language in which the New Testament was written, Μαρία (Maria) or Μαριάμ (Mariam) were the forms in which the name was originally spread across the Christian world in the first few centuries after Christ, before its Latin variation became known.
According to experts, its origins are believed to come from the Syro-Aramaic name ”Maryam,” which was a derivation of the Hebrew name ”Miriam.”
There is no clear evidence of what the name Miriam actually meant in Hebrew, but the most popular belief is that it was a term meaning “sea of bitterness” or “sea of sorrow.”
This could actually be very appropriate, if we consider what Christians believe about the Virgin Mary and her deep sorrow after She endured watching the crucifixion of her son, Jesus.
The name Maria began growing in popularity in the Greek world very quickly after the first Greeks embraced Christianity, almost 2,000 years ago, and it is not difficult to understand the reasons why.
Mary was the second most prominent figure in the new religion, after Jesus Christ himself.
The loving, maternal figure of the Parthenos Maria (The Virgin Mary), along with the deep admiration the first Christian Greeks showed for Her, prompted many people to begin baptizing their daughters with this name.
After centuries of uninterrupted presence in Greek society, the name Maria is not only popular in Greece today, but it is actually still, by far, the most popular female name in the country.
According to a recent announcement by Greece’s Statistics Service ELSTAT, Maria remains the most popular female name in Greece today, with 8.3 percent of the total female population in Greece bearing the name of Christ’s beloved mother.
This means that approximately one in twelve Greek women is called Maria, and will celebrate her name day on August 15th!
Now, if we take into consideration that other names related to the Virgin Mary are also celebrated on that day, including Marios, Panagiotis, Panagiota, Despoina, Parthena and many more, we can understand why the Dormition of the Virgin Mary is not only a huge religious celebration, but a joyous festivity for almost every Greek family.
So, whether you celebrate your name day on Thursday or not, we wish you a very happy August 15!

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