The name Mary is a derivative of Miriam. Miriam, the sister of Moses, is a central character in Hebrew literature and one that many Jewish mothers would have been proud to name their daughters. So proud, in fact, it is estimated that of the Jewish women living in Palestine during the first century, twenty-five percent were named Mary.
When Luke identifies her in 8:2 as “from whom seven demons had gone out,” he is setting her apart and confirming which Mary he is speaking of, in much the same way that we often give identifying labels to friends who share the same name.
When we come across Mary Magdalene in Luke 8, we have just left the scene where a woman knelt and anointed Jesus’s feet with perfume and tears. Jesus says to the woman at his feet, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50). The very next woman mentioned is our Mary Magdalene. The woman who anointed Jesus’s feet with oil and Magdalene were witnesses to the importance of Jesus’s death. It is a contrast to the men’s inability to hear the predictions of the coming crucifixion.
Can we blame people for mixing the two into one person? Of course not, but neither is it fair to either woman to merge their stories. Each of the two stands alone in her relationship to Christ, his forgiveness, his healing, and the call she was given. The first woman is unnamed while Mary Magdalene is clearly identified and given access to a rabbi, something unheard of during that time.