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Catholicism has been around for over 2,000 years, so it should be no surprise that our ancient faith has become interwoven with the world.
This is particularly true with regards to Mary, the Mother of Christ, whom “all generations” have called “blessed,” honoring her in ways large and small.
Let’s have some fun and dig deeper into the marvellous Marian meaning behind some common nouns.
The first modern car, the Mercedes 35 HP, was named after Mércédès Jellinek, the daughter of Emil Jellinek, a wealthy Austrian diplomat, automobile entrepreneur and racing enthusiast who had commissioned Wilhelm Maybach and Paul Daimler to design the revolutionary racecar in 1901. The name Mércédès is of Spanish origin, referring to Our Lady of Ransom, whose Spanish title (La Virgen de la Merced or Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes) is Our Lady of Mercies. The Mercederian order, or the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, was founded in 1218 to ransom Christian slaves from the Moorish invaders.
In the Middle Ages, insects of the family Coccinellidae (from the Latin coccineus, “scarlet”) became known as the “beetle of Our Lady.” The Virgin Mary is often depicted wearing red in Byzantine iconography. The black spots of the seven-spot ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata), the most common ladybird in Europe, represented Mary’s seven joys and seven sorrows. The legend goes that after farmers prayed for Our Lady’s intercession with their pest-infested crops, these insects arrived and devoured the critters. Hence, in her honor, the farmers named them “Our Lady’s beetle” in English and other European languages – in German, Marienkäfer; in Spanish, Mariquita; in Danish, Mariehøne. In Dutch, however, it’s Lieveheersbeestje or Onzelieveheersbeestje: Our dear Lord’s little bug.
The marigold (Calendula officinalis) was known as Our Lady’s Dowry in England, or Mary’s Gold. In the late medieval period, it was called Marienblome in German, and Marienbloemkijn in Dutch. Mary gardenswere common in medieval monasteries, and many plants bore religious symbolism, including maidenhair ferns, foxgloves (also known as Lady’s Fingers or “Our Lady’s Gloves”), rosemary (rosmarinus, “dew of the sea”), and the hawthorn or mayflower (Mary’s Flower).
In Spain, butterflies are named for the praying hands of the Virgin Mary. Incidentally, it is said in Romania that butterflies came from the tears of Our Lady.
“La Macarena” is Spanish for Our Lady of Hope. The popular ’90s song by Los del Río and Fangoria is about a woman from the La Macarena area of Seville, Spain.
Can you think of any other common words or phrases related to Mother Mary?