"Meir" is actually a sobriquet — his real name is thought to have been Nahori or Misha. The name Meir, meaning "Illuminator," was given to him because he enlightened the eyes of scholars and students in Torah study. The epithet Baal HaNess simply means "Who Does Miracle(s)."
At the end of 66, conflict broke out between Greeks and Jews in Jerusalem and Caesarea. According to a Jewish legend in the Talmud (tractate Gitin 56a-b), Nero came to Jerusalem and told his men to fire arrows in all four directions. All the arrows landed facing towards Jerusalem. He then asked a passing child to repeat the verse he had learned that day. "I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel," (Ez. 25,14) said the child. Nero became terrified, realizing that G-d wanted the Temple in Jerusalem to be destroyed, but would punish the one who destroyed it. Nero said, "He desires to lay waste his House and to lay the blame on me." Nero fled to Rome and converted to Judaism to avoid such retribution. Vespasian was then dispatched to put down the rebellion. The Talmud adds that Rabbi Meir, a prominent supporter of Bar Kokhba's rebellion against Roman rule, is a descendant of Nero.
He was called the "Master of the Miracle" because of the following story. He was married to Beruriah, the daughter of Rabbi Chananiah ben Teradyon, one of the ten martyrs. The government ordered Rabbi Chanina's and his wife’s execution for teaching Torah publicly. They decreed that his daughter (Beruriah's sister) should live a life of shame. She was placed in a brothel. Beruriah asked her husband to save her sister. Rabbi Meir took a bag of gold coins and went to the brothel disguised as a Roman horseman. When he discovered that Beruriah's sister kept her chastity he offered the money as a bribe to the guard. The guard replied, “When my supervisor comes, he will notice one missing and kill me.” Rabbi Meir answered, “Take half the money for yourself, and use the other half to bribe the officials.” The guard continued, “And when there is no more money, and the supervisors come - then what will I do?” Rabbi Meir answered, “Say, ‘The G-d of Meir - answer me!’ and you will be saved.” The guard asked, “And how can I be guaranteed that this will save me?” Rabbi Meir replied, “Look - there are man-eating dogs over there. I will go to them and you will see for yourself.” Rabbi Meir walked over the dogs and they ran over to him to tear him apart. He cried, “G-d of Meir - answer me!” and the dogs retreated. The guard was convinced and gave him the girl. When the group of supervisors came, the guard bribed them with the money. Eventually, the money was used up, and it was publicized what had happened. They arrested the guard and sentenced him to death by hanging. They tied the rope around his neck and he said, “G-d of Meir - answer me!” The rope tore, much to everyone’s amazement. He told them the incident, and they went after Rabbi Meir. The guard was saved.
From then on, a tradition has remained that when a Jew finds himself, in any sort of crisis, he gives charity for the benefit of Torah students in Israel, whichever yeshivah it may be, and dedicates the charity in memory of Rabbi Meir Baal Haneis (or Hanes). He then says, “G-d of Meir - answer me! G-d of Meir - answer me!” and in that merit will hopefully have salvation from his crisis. This prayer is also known as an aid in finding lost objects. Several famous charitable foundations exist today which use his name and likeness such as the Rabbi Meir Baal Haneis Salant charity which was founded in 1760 by Rabbi Shmuel Salant (1716–1800) who served as the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem from 1878 to 1906. This stems from a segulah in which Rabbi Meir proclaimed that he would personally intercede in heaven on behalf of whoever would give charity to the poor of the land of Israel in his merit.
In the Gemara to tractate Erubin in the Babylonian Talmud there is an extended discussion of the real name of this Rabbi Meir. At 13b there is, without argumentation, a simple statement that this Rabbi Meir is "Eleazar Ben Arach," one of the students of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai. This Eleazar ben Arach is given tremendous praise in Avot of Rabbi Natan. Indeed at 2:8 of Rabbi Nathan's "Avot" this Eleazar ben Arach is presented as being the greatest of the Sages, inclusive of Rabbi Eliezer ha Gadol. Further in the Gemara to tractate Haggigah in the Babylonian Talmud [14b] this same Eleazar ben Arach is presented as a student of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai who, at an early age, had mastered the meaning of the mystical revelations which are associated with "the Work of the Chariot."
All of this is rather curious, since aggadic material in Rabbi Nathan's "Avot" and elsewhere indicates that after his studies Eleazar ben Arach settled in Emmaus and virtually ended his participation in the Rabbinic Movement. Also, Rabbi Meir is not listed as one of the students at the beit ha-midrash of Zakai at Yavneh.
In " 'The Written' as the Vocation of Conceiving Jewishly" this onundrum is addressed. The suggestion is that the virtual disappearance of Eleazer Ben Arach from Rabbinic ways allowed for the usage of this name as a cognomen for Rabbi Meir, acceptably to Rabbinic officialdom who permitted this "cover name" to honor this great scholar but with sufficient indirectness so as not also to honor his checkered history with Rabbinic officialdom. The book also points out that Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai set up a bet midrash at Beor Khail after he left Yavneh, apparently because he was so radically shamed and discredited by what would become the mainstream of the Rabbinic Movement after "that very day" memorialized in Chapter Five of the Mishna's tractate Sotah.. Rabbi Meir was not a student of Zakai at Yavneh. But it is argued that it is entirely possible that he became a student of Zakai at Beor Khail.
In his notations on Talmud (Mesoras Has'Shas), Rabbi Yeshayah Berlin points out that the Nehorai that is identified with Rabbi Eleazar is not Rabbi Meir but a different Tanna called Nehorai. In which case there is no need for the hypothesis mentioned above.
First a disciple of Elisha ben Abuyah and later of Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Meir was one of the most important Tannaim of the Mishnah. Rabbi Akiva's teachings, through his pupil Rabbi Meir, became the basis of the Mishnah. Rabbi Meir is the quoted authority for many Aggadot and Halachot that are still studied today. Also, Rabbi Meir was an active participant in Bar Kokhba's revolt.
Twenty four thousand students of Rabbi Akiva died in a plague. Only five survived, and Rabbi Meir was one of them. The four others were: Rabbi Judah ben Ilai, Rabbi Eleazar ben Shammua, Rabbi Jose ben Halafta, and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
Although Rabbi Meir died outside of the Land of Israel, he was brought to Tiberias (the same city where his well-known teacher Rabbi Akiva is buried) and buried there in a standing position near the Kinneret. He requested that he be buried in Eretz Yisrael by the seashore so that the water that washes the shores of Eretz Yisrael should also lap his grave (Jerusalem Talmud, Kelaim 9:4). Visitors to his grave traditionally recite Tehillim and a special prayer at the tomb and synagogue of "Reb Meir Baal HaNes)" in Tiberias. This special prayer is found in the prayer book "Aneini". Every year, thousands of Jews make pilgrimage to his grave to receive blessings for health and success.