R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev writes in “Kedushat Levi”:
“The name of tefilat “Shacharit” is easily understood, for this prayer is said in the morning when the sun begins to shine, and the word “shachar” in Hebrew means “dawn”. The name “Maariv” is clear as well, for it is the evening prayer, and its name is connected to the word “erev” – “evening” in Hebrew. But what about the afternoon prayer – “Minchah”? [This prayer is said at the time when the sun is beginning to go down, but its name does not seem to reflect the sun’s movement at all. Why so?]”.
Here’s the explanation of R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev:
• One prays Shacharit because every morning haShem gives him back his refreshed soul. We get up after a long night, we are able to stand firmly on our feet and we say [as part of the prayer, in the blessings after “Kriat Shma”]: “Emet ve-yatziv…” (“True and firm…”). Every morning we feel as if we are created anew. And there’s so much to be thankful for: the night has passed, the sun is shining again, and one would naturally want to express gratitude to the Creator.
• The Maariv is said at night, when one is preparing to sleep, and sleep is 1/60th of death (Berachot 57b). A person is about to deposit his soul with haShem during the long hours of darkness. He says the Evening Prayer and rests with full faith that haShem will return the soul in the morning, refreshed and purged of all impurities.
• However, Mincha, the afternoon prayer, has no natural sense of obligation or gratitude associated with it. Mincha is a special gift which we offer to haShem. And such is the meaning of the word “mincha“ in Hebrew – “gift”…
Excerpted from “Kedushat Levi” (Chapter “Chayei Sarah”).