The names of Anne and Joachim

An old Christian tradition dating back to the second century attributes the names of Anna and Joachim to the parents of the Virgin Mary. Their specific names indicate their role in the Father’s plan of salvation by sending his Son into the world.

Anna means “grace,” whilst Joachim means “that which God has established.” Putting them together, Mary’s parents symbolise God’s promise put into action with his people from the beginning of times. The marriage of these two personalities was one of the last prologues to Jesus’s birth.

The oldest written reference to these names is found in the Proto-Evangelium of St James, written in the mid-second century based on first century traditions. This early Christian document starts with the events related to the birth of Mary until the flight to Egypt.

Joachim and Anna are presented as a God-fearing and generous wealthy couple which remained childless. The fact that they lamented that they didn’t have children leads us to conclude that they were past the age to bearing children. Thus, we can assert that they were advanced in years when Mary was born. It is not clear which one of the parents was sterile, because both Joachim and Anna were scorned because they didn’t have any progeny. This shame led Joachim to go in the desert for forty days, awaiting the Lord’s visit, whilst Anna stayed in her house garden crying and praying. The symbolism of this time of trail is very strong: forty days remind us of the time the people of Israel spent in the desert, struggling between faithfulness and betrayal, while both the desert and the garden in the Bible represent the place where the heart meets God and finds rest.

They were both rewarded for their faith because both were visited by God’s messengers who announced to them that they will have a child. This heavenly announcement revealed that this child had an important role to fulfil. After nine months Mary was born, and they kept her with them for three years, when they sent her to live in the temple to serve the Lord according to the promise they had made on knowing that they were going to become parents.