Wednesday, January 04, 2006

My First Name

Like Psychotoddler, I too go by my given name; a name that certainly is not Jewish.

I am called by my Hebrew name when I get an aliya in shul and sometimes by people who insist that this is my true name. Nevertheless, I prefer to be called by my given name because I was never given a Hebrew name by my parents.

Recognizing the fact that I needed a Hebrew name in shul, I picked one for myself when I was a teenager. Since all my grandparents were still alive at this time, I did not choose a name of a deceased relative. Rather, I picked the name of a soldier from the Irgun Zvai Leumi who was hanged by the British in 1947 whom I admired. While I continue to use this Hebrew name to this day, I only use it for "religious" matters.

I am sometimes asked whom I am named for when people hear my given name. The answer is quite easy: no one. When my father was growing up, people added a "y" to his name as a diminutive. This bothered him some much that when I was born his only stipulation in naming me was that I be given a name that did not have a diminutive. He did not want a son who people would refer to as Johnny, Bobby, Mikey, etc.

Although my given name has absolutely no significance, it is my name; the name I prefer to be known by; the name I have answered to for the past thirty-three years.

27 Comments:

At January 4, 2006 at 8:05:00 AM EST, Blogger yitz said...

Hi Simple,

Putting a few things together:

"Recognizing the fact that I needed a Hebrew name in shul, I picked one for myself when I was a teenager. Since all my grandparents were still alive at this time, I did not choose a name of a deceased relative. Rather, I picked the name of a soldier from the Irgun Zvai Leumi who was hanged by the British in 1947 whom I admired. While I continue to use this Hebrew name to this day, I only use it for "religious" matters."

and:
"Personal names are not acquired accidentally or simply because the parents wish to confer a certain name. The Holy One, blessed is He, inspires the parents with a spirit of wisdom and knowledge to call their child by that name which corresponds to the very root of its soul."

I WOULD SAY: that since your parents did not give you a Jewish name, the Ruach HaKodesh that the Maggid was referring to, devolved upon YOU when you chose your name. I believe that I've heard this from people "bigger" [Rabbeim] than me. I know that a ger when he/she converts also has to choose a name, and this, too, has an element of Ruach HaKodesh to it. So, IMNSHO, use your Hebrew name!

Fondly,
yitz

 
At January 4, 2006 at 8:43:00 AM EST, Blogger torontopearl said...

"...the name I have answered to for the past thirty-three years."

I guess then your name is "YOU" -- when people call "Hey, you!" we'll know to whom they're referring!

Signed,
A Pearl by any other name...is still a Pearl

 
At January 4, 2006 at 8:48:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Yitz: Thank you for your thoughtful response.

Pearl: Now there is an idea! Maybe I will just change it to "A Simple Jew".

 
At January 4, 2006 at 8:56:00 AM EST, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

Though I prefer my hebrew name, I respond to both my hebrew and english names. I actually have three hebrew names - the first two given by my parents and the third added on by me at the suggestion of a Dayan/Kabbalist who specialized in names. I found it a very difficult task to come up with the right name, but once I did, it just fit and felt right. Like Yitz, I have also heard that when you choose your own name you are given ruach hakodesh. I understand the rationale behind someone wanting you to use your hebrew name for all things - but as long as you are using your hebrew name for religious matters, I don't see why you should not be called by whatever name you are most comfortable with in your everyday life.

 
At January 4, 2006 at 9:02:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

I appreciate your kind words, MCAryeh.

 
At January 4, 2006 at 1:12:00 PM EST, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

When I was researching a dvar Torah for the bris of one of my sons, I came across two different views.
1) that the name affects how the child will turn out.
2) that the name is a form of Ruach Ha-kodesh that describes part of the nature of the child.
Both IIRC were based on midrashim.

 
At January 4, 2006 at 3:01:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

David: I have seen these ideas as well and find them to be very interesting. My daughter certainly shares the personality of the great-grandmother that she is named after.

 
At January 4, 2006 at 3:44:00 PM EST, Blogger Philly Farmgirl said...

Names have always fascinated me. I love learning what they mean, knowing why and how they were chosen. I truly agonized over choosing names for my children.
I did not have a Hebrew name growing up. My children all have Hebrew names that translate easily into English. I did choose a Hebrew name for myself as an adult, that I use most always. I really like what it means and really feels like it is who I am. Not that I dislike my English name, it is quite pretty and the meaning is good and positive. I certainly did not go barreling up to my family insisting they drop the old and take on the new. They did ask what it was, said it was pretty, but had no intentions of using it. No problem at all. I just feel more like my Jewish self, if that makes any sense. The whole 'change your name, change your mazal', appealed to me too.

 
At January 5, 2006 at 6:39:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Intersting thoughts, Philly Farmgirl. Thanks :)

 
At January 5, 2006 at 1:17:00 PM EST, Anonymous CE said...

Philly FG,
Is there a good source that you know of for researching name meanings and origins?

 
At January 5, 2006 at 3:57:00 PM EST, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I'm going to play devil's advocate here for a minute and ask if you really do need a "Jewish" name. I would argue that the name your parents gave you is your name. It doesn't matter if it is biblical, modern hebrew, aramaic, or greek. Your name is your name.

The thousands of children who were named "Aleksander" in ancient times didn't need to also be called "Efraim" or something else when they got aliyahs.

My parents called me "Moshe" at my bris. It so happens that they felt I needed a second name for use in public. For better or worse that set me up for some kind of dichotomy as an adult.

I chose not to give my kids "English" names because I do believe their names are their identities.

So my kid is Yaakov in school and Yaakov on his driver's license. He'll have to learn how to make that work as he grows up and has to live in a non-Jewish world.

The gemorah is full of Rabbis with aramaic names. So why do you need to pick some Hebrew name to be a full fledged Jew?

 
At January 5, 2006 at 7:14:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Psychotoddler: First of all, you have a point about origins of names. A person certainly doesn't need to pick a Hebrew name to be a full fledged Jew. I am not arguing that point.

While Alexander was a non-Jewish name that later became a "Jewish" name, my given name is a name that was never adopted as a Jewish name. I seriously doubt that it ever will.

However, now that I have a Hebrew name that I chose when I was a teenager, do you maintain that I should only use my given name when I get an aliya?

 
At January 5, 2006 at 7:14:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

CE: To answer your question:

Scroll midway down this page for some books on Jewish names

 
At January 5, 2006 at 9:06:00 PM EST, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I'm not versed in the halachas of adding or changing names, so I can't tell you what to do.

Clearly there is a tradition of adding names in certain circumstances like when people are ill or when they convert.

My contention, which may or may not be valid halachically, is that had you not added a name, you could have used your given name for ritual purposes. Maybe it would sound funny to call someone up as "Luke ben Annakin" or whatever your real name is, but I don't see that it would be wrong.

 
At January 6, 2006 at 6:45:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

So I shouldn't have picked a name other than Jabba the Hut? ;)

 
At January 6, 2006 at 10:40:00 AM EST, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

I have seen people with only secular names be called to the Torah by those names (ex: Douglas ben Moshe).
However, it is written that one of the things that caused the Jews to be worthy of their redemption from Egypt was their Hebrew names...
And I never understood the use use of names like Alexander (or even R' Yishmael), however different times had different norms.

BTW,
I also don't like many diminutives - and I try very hard to make sure my son Mendel is not called "Mendy" - but I know that it is not fully under my control.
How could your father have been so sure that nobody would use a diminutive for your name?

 
At January 6, 2006 at 12:22:00 PM EST, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

So my daughter's name is "Pearl". We spelled it phonetically as Perel, which is the yiddish pronunciation. She's named after my grandmother. Perel is a Yiddish name, but really it's German. So would you say that I need to find a "Jewish" name for her now? Do I need to add "Pnina"? Clearly, a large portion of Jews have decided that Yiddish names, which are non-hebrew in origin, are acceptible.

Why shouldn't this be the case with names derived from other languages?

 
At January 6, 2006 at 1:28:00 PM EST, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

Hold on a sec,
I never told anyone to do anything - I simply repeated a Rashi.
I would think that what needs to be understood is what is the definition of a "Jewish name" - I don't claim to know the answer.
I would say that it seems to be defined by cultural norms among frum Jews, which is why many, many, secular names have become commonly used by frum Jews throughout history - especially girls names.
What should we make of that Rashi? I dunno, what do you think?

 
At January 6, 2006 at 1:34:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

I am not sure what Chabakuk Elisha's answer is, but Pearl was a Jewish name that existed in the Old Country.

But nevertheless, you raised a good point about what constitutes a Jewish name.

Taking your logic one step forward. Is a Jewish name a name many Jews adopted? If so, why are the names Isadore, Irving, and Max not "Jewish" names? Why do we only adopt Jewish names from the Old World and not from the New World?

 
At January 6, 2006 at 1:58:00 PM EST, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

ASJ,
It seems our comments crossed in cyber-space.
When Hellenism was common, one of the steps a Jew would take was to adopt a Greek name instead of his Hebrew name. In America, people took names (Harold, Louis, Seymour...) that they felt would not sound like they were immigrant Jews.
I think the Degel's definition of Hebrew may be applicable here.
If, let's say, the goal of maintaining Jewish names is to show pride in being a Jew (perhaps), then if the motivation for selecting a secular was good - then it's a Jewish name. And if not, then not.
Whaddaya think?

 
At January 6, 2006 at 2:09:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Interesting idea. I like it.

 
At January 7, 2006 at 10:13:00 PM EST, Anonymous rod said...

I got stuck with a "let's sound waspy" Rodney for a first name and Eleazer as my Hebrew name - my ggg grandfather's name. Another ggg grandfather's name was Asher, and Eleazer's father was Jeremiah, but I get Eleazer as if Rodney wasn't bad enough.

I never thought of it until now. Can you change your Hebrew name?

 
At January 8, 2006 at 8:07:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Rod: If you were given a Hebrew name, I don't think you can change it. Although there are cases where you could take on additional names (i.e. if a extremely person is sick there is a tradition to add another name to his name [ex: Shmuel to Shmuel Dovid])

 
At January 8, 2006 at 11:24:00 PM EST, Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Having grown up in the Soviet Union, I've never been given a Hebrew name. Now, it sounds like all the dead relatives' names have been (or about to be taken). I'm not really sure whether I need a Hebrew name and ought to take one, but I agree that the name I was given is MY name, and isn't any worse for it just because it's not Jewish.

 
At January 9, 2006 at 6:35:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Irina: Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

 
At January 12, 2006 at 10:42:00 PM EST, Anonymous jaime said...

I think it was my idea when I was a little girl to also have a hebrew name. So, my father asked a Rabbi, what my name in Hebrew would be (my first name is Jaime or as the Israelis pronouce my name - Gemmi) The name the Rabbi gave me seemed so random. It was something like Yanina. I never liked it because I couldn't find any connection to it. It just never made any sense.

Now, one of my middle names is Ruth, which nothing personal to all the Ruths out there, but I hated it growing up - only the old people who lived in Miami were named Ruth. When I moved to Israel, the name was on my id card, and I sorta got stuck with it.

Even though I never like anyone calling me that, at least it made sense to me. Of course, whenever they did called me Ruti, I always corrected them and told them my name was Gemmi.

 
At January 13, 2006 at 6:35:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Jaime: Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

 

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