Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What’s in a name?

Posted by Shira Z.

What is in a name? We don’t really think about this on a day-to-day basis, but one day while I was driving some people home from school, the discussion about names came up. We began questioning, would each of us be different if we had a different name? Would our personalities or lives be different if our names were different? Many things can change about a person, but one thing that remains constant is a name. A huge impact on our lives, which we don’t even realize, is our names. Another very interesting question that came in my mind is, what is Judaism’s perspective on names? In the Jewish world, a child is given a name, a sudden identity. This name could be the one of a patriarch or matriarch, a relative that perished in the holocaust, or just a praise of G-d. A name could be anything, and in Jewish circles, the name gives a child the beginning connection with Hashem. For a girl her naming is a few days after her birth and a boy is named at his bris melah. At this point when the Jewish name is given at a few days old, the child begins their journey with Hashem. Names and their backgrounds can be seen in Tanach such as when Sarah named Yitzchak for when she found out she would be having a child at her old age, she laughed (Breshiet 21: 6). Further on, when Rivka gave birth and named Yaakov, she named Yaakov for when he was born, he came out on the “akov” or heel of Esau (Breshit 25:26). When Sarah and Rivka named their sons, they didn’t just give them random names; they gave their sons a background, which they carried with themselves for their entire life. Lisa Katz and Robbin Weiss explain that in today’s society a Jewish name is a parents hope for what their child will become in the future. Their name is a parent’s light that their Jewish lineage will continue. According to Rabbi Akiva G. Belk hebrew letters are the spiritual foundation for Hebrew names that represent the essence of what a person is and will be in this life.

In today’s modern society, the Jewish nations names stand out our names sound and are written differently. For many non-Jews can’t pronounce the “ch” sound like we can and so on. Today, even the most secular Jews still hold on to Hebrew names even if they may have an English as well. But today isn’t the only period where the Jewish nation turned to their names to keep a connection with Hashem. According to Rabbi Akiva G. Belk, when Bnei Israel was in Egypt, they fell into the 49th level, one level from the furthest from Hashem.
He writes that they “almost reached the place where they may have crossed the line that we spoke of in our study of Parshas Bo, entitled Remembering. We asked the question: "[The] point is, Can a Jew cross the line? Can a Jew reach a place where there is no point of return? Where S H U V A H does not exist?" Our sages say there were three reasons they did not fall to the lowest level, which may have prevented their return. One of those reasons was that they kept their Hebrew names. They used their Hebrew identity!”

In the past, present, and future Jewish names have and will be the source of connection with Hashem. No matter how bad things have or can become in the future, there will always be a source of Jewish identity within a Jewish name. If Jewish names kept the Jewish nation strong in Egypt, so too, when we are on the verge of assimilation, our names will always been something that can’t be taken away. No matter how hard a person wants to rebel against Judaism, their name will be their everlasting attachment to Hashem. But this being my belief, do you feel that names keep us connected to Hashem? Furthermore, without Jewish names such as Avraham, Rivka, Ahuva, etc. will the Jewish nation grow weak and cease to be a strong, religious nation?



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shira this is an awesome post! First off I was talking to a friend about my name and she told me that Only i could pull of my name and that my personality compliments my name and vice versa. I belive that a name realy says a lot about a person and their and in a way builds an inadverdant connnection to hashem. The thing is would it make sence that the person is bridging his connection and conforming with the Jewish nation if their parent picks their name?; it is not their decdision. For example today we hear many names such as eliana- my god answered, nesiah- the miracle of hashem etc. These names alow the parents to show their children and their friends exacty what they want their child to mean and what the child means to them. I think that it is difficult to truly say that with out jewish names the strong religion will disintegrate, because one doesnt chooose the name and in order to respect their parents choice shoulnde be forced or feel obliged to change their name in order to stregthen bnei yisrael. Another intersting idea to think about in relations to a name is the idea that when praying for sick perosn one might add the name Chaim for a boy in order to stregthen the teffiliot because chaim means life. This idea is important in understading how the jewish people identify themselves- it seems that the name helps show that with out god and the important poeple god sent us to teach us his ways our direct relationship may begin to vanish.

April 30, 2007 7:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On one hand, I believe that having two names- one English, one Hebrew- is good for children. This gives children the ability to sort of make their own identity for themselves. If someone is in a situation that they feel an English name is necessary, then the second name could come in handy. In the work environment it is not always going to be that people are open and inviting to new people, especially others of different religions. If a child has one name, then they are stuck. There is no way to get out of using their very Hebrew name (one that might be difficult to pronounce, obviously Jewish…etc).
But I also do believe that people should be tolerant of others, no matter their background. There is the chance that the child will go grow up to not be religious. In that case, having a second name could go two ways. The second name could be a blessing for the child- they won’t have to connect with Judaism at all. This second name might also be helpful in guiding the child back to their religion. The name could make them feel as though they belong.
My other thought is that if people stopped giving their children Jewish names, then I do not believe that we as a nation we be any weaker. It could be true that our names allow us to identify with one another. It could also be true that these names do nothing for us. I don’t believe that without these names we will no longer keep the Torah and do Mitvot. It doesn’t seem like our connection is in our names. It’s in the way we dress and the way that we conduct ourselves. Even if we were all named Jenny and Bobby, we could still connect with each other- it’s in our actions, not in the name that people call us.

Naomi Z

May 01, 2007 6:13 PM  
Anonymous Shira M. said...

I think names are truly importanted and show someone's identity. One of the first things someone says about themselves is their name, it is who they are. Also, I once heard that the mother of a child gets some sort of "nevuah" when deciding on their childs name. I think every persons name shows who they are and I could never picture someone with a different name. I think espcially for Jewish people names are important because we use it all the time. When someone is sick, the way to pray for them is to say their name. We also do this when someone dies. Our hebrew names always have a meaning and I think this is really cool and special. I think without these names our religion would not cease to be a strong nation, but we would lose something very special. Our names have very strong conections to our nation and Hashem.
-song from light aka shira moer

May 01, 2007 9:57 PM  
Anonymous lisa amy aliza etel peninah said...

First off- i agree with everyone that this is really interesting, shira. second- In response to shira's question of -do you think the jewish people would become weaker if we didn't continue to name our children jewish names- i dont think that is even possible! Jewish names have become so assimilated into society. Think of common names today: rachel, benjamin, david, aaron, michael, jonathan, joseph, simon,leah, daniel, jacob, and rebecca.... the list can go on and on, and all of them are jewish names that i can personally say i know non jews have. Even if jews were to stray from jewish names, the names that they would name their children that they see non jews having are still biblical! So yeh- i dont think jewish names will cease to exist. however, i have to admit i personally dont think they make that big of a difference. My name is lisa amy (i just had to get amy in their somewhere)- not so jewish- right? but i still feel connected to hashem. I do have hebrew names also but they are not "jewish" hebrew names- aliza(the name i picked out for myself in kindergarten) means happy, and Etel and peninah my given birth hebrew names are just derived from my great grandmothers english names- ethel and pearl. Even though i dont have a very jewish name doesnt mean i cant feel as jewish as those who do. Basically i think hebrew names and jewish names are both beautiful and fine. But, i do think like naomi mentioned that it is nice to give children the option to have both because of comfort levals in different situations. As we know, todays society is very based on first impressions and images and it could be hard for someone who has an extremely "jewish" name to suceed in the business world, for example. I know a very religious woman named Tzipporah who used a different name in her buisness job because it is too difficult to use tzipporah- not even because people are discriminating but also becuse it's hard for people to say. In response to the whole idea that naming a child is profetic and it can relate to who they grow up to be- i also think that's a beautiful idea and i think it can apply to both hebrew and english names. Thanx! And everyone in my class: shira, tova, iris, naomi, shira, arella, tamar, (...and rabbi krestt...): i love all your names :)

May 17, 2007 8:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nmes are often part of the culture one comes from as seen in Judaism, in order to preserve tradition and culture almost every Jew has either a hebrew or biblical name (in addition to their American- or wherever theyre from- name), this is also seen in various other communities within America and the woorld, many people feel that their culture and heritage is carried on through names- therefore they find it important to continue the name tradition. Additionally, people use names to honor/ respect the deceased (or in the case of Sfardim still living- but elderly)by choosing a relatives/ someone to be rmembered's name for ur child, u are stating not onl that u wish to honor the deceased but also ur hopes that ur child will have the positive taits of the one who he/she was named after, similar to one who has a Biblical name. Names iwthin Judaism do play an important role as seen at the end of Shemoneh Esrei, where people often insert a pasuk which has their own name written in it. plus there is that whole idea within Judaism, that everyone can find his/hr name along with his/her destiny written subtly in the Tanach. As for personality, i think that there too names play an important role. names, especially ones that come with history, show the named what the parents admire and want for the child, and also helps the person find her/her roots and identity from the name. also if, lets sya lisa went by her hebrew name, ettel penina, she would PROBABLY be a little bit fdifferent, i dont think that her core personality would change, but alot of what she did/said/how she acted would be very differnet, bc from different names others expect different things from you. if, say i used an english name like shaniqua, a) people would be confused cuz thats a traditional AFrican American name and b) peopl would have different expectations for me, bc i would have a slightly differnet personality and their perception of me would be differnet. alot of people introduce themselves witht he name that they like to use for themselves, ( whether it be a nickname, an engllish naem or a hebrew name ) in order to give a certian first impression to those they are meetin. NAmes really do affect the social facet of our lives.


p.s. shiz--nice topic ;)

May 28, 2007 10:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Tanach we consistently see the significane in names. For exmple, Avraham's name changed from Avram, or Machalon, implying the disease from which he died in the story of Ruuth etc. Many times, names signify, as previously mentioned, identities. People change, society changes, yet names will always remain the same. From personal experience, a name symbolizes individuality and uniqueness (especially if no one's ever heard of it...cough cough). Names represent what is ireversible, what remains with us through hard times; our inner selves. Our actions might change, yet our identity and who we really are despite our actions, will never change. Additionally, Hashem highlights the significane of names as Hashem has different ones, each one signifiying a different attribute. We have also seen in Navi the significane of names, such as the different names for the different types of angels, or the different references to to Bnei Israel (beit Israel versus Beit Yaacov). Yet names aren't necessarily people's names, name can also mean titles. There are many different titles or ways of signifying actions in Navi. For isnatance, there is a great difference from "Emor" to "ledaber". Consequently, names or titles, have much significance to Judaism and the we percive things. No matter what we do, nothing can change what we call ourselvs. The title "Jew" has much significance, especially in non Jewish countries. World War II signifies this, because one of the first things the Germans did to the Jews is have the same name for boys and the same name for girls. This shows the significance of names, because through establishng same names the Germans hoped to eradicate individuality and a sense of identity. As shown, names are a major part of our lives and religion.

May 29, 2007 6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always wondered about the significance of naming ones child, so good job Shira! I always heard that parents are gifted with a semblance of Ruach Hakodesh when they name their children, if this is really true then names would obviously have to hold some import in jewish society.A name can really show a persons personality or just define who they are and as someone said earlier be a remembrance to some one etc. some Sephardim even have the minhag to name after the living which is considered to be a very great honor.Names hold great value in Jewish society and the outside world as well.hen on wants to show a change in identity they change their name. A name is the first thing one truly "owns" for oneself and respecting that it has value is very important.

May 29, 2007 8:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What would a person be without a name? nothing. Name's are what make us who we are today and thats why they're so important and special. Each name has a specific meaning or symbol that defines you, and names are deffinalty not picked at random to a person. For insance, I was named after my grandmother, and great grandmother (Devora and Malka) and in english terms my name means queen bee. Names are very important when it comes to help us remember a certain somone who passed away, and this is so important in judaism. We are always told to remember certain events/people and what they did in tanach. My name is truly special to me because not only does it remind me of my grandmother, and great grandmother, but it constantly reminds me of who i am as a person and my background. With my name I am constantly reminded that i am part of the jewish people and i will never forget that. With my name, i will always feel and have this strong connection to Judiasm. I find this extremley important as well. There could be a non-observant jew who has a very jewish name, and although they don't observe certain hilachot, by just hearing a family member, or friend call their name, they'll remember where they come from and that they're part of the jewish nation. This is something that everyone needs to constantly remember nowadays especially cause in certain social settings a person changes their ways depending on the type of people around them. Through this we see that names play an important role in every persons life and without it we'd be nothing.

- Devora

June 04, 2007 10:11 PM  
Anonymous ally said...

One day when I was with a group of friends, I jokingly asked how people would perceive me if I was named Batya Brucha. One of my friends said I would lead a compeltly different life and I would be more "religous", and I disagreed. Names, in all instances, are just a label to objects in order for them to be easily identified. Yes, names for people are carefully thought of and selected, but why should your mother and fathers decision affect your connection to Hashem? Every person is born with free choice and will, and a simple named will not change that. Being named Allison gives people the impression I am not the most religious Jew out there, and not going into what I define religiousness as, I think these people are wrong. The first impression of a man named Moshe would be that he is a religous Jew, but how is any one allowed to judge and make that decision by just the sole knowledge of the Moshe's name? To answer the second question, I feel having Jewish names such as the ones listed are good to have as reminders of our great decendants, but I do not feel that it will cuase our nation to cease to be strong and religous. If we really need to be reminded of that, then we should look in the Torah, not a familar face in Kemp Mill.

June 05, 2007 12:02 PM  
Anonymous tova said...

i think a jewish name serves as a jewish identity for that individual person, but someones identity CAN NOT be defined by their name. for example, someone may feel a connection to jewdaism becuase of their name, however, someones religious status can not be determined from their name (i.e. the sentence doesnt work both ways)i do beleive that names can connect somone to religion...like when people convert they always get a hebrew name. or a jew who has a hebrew name also has a hebrew name which is there connection to the religion. it reminds me of madonna who gave herself a hebrew name, meaning she obviously felt that by having a hebrew name she would feel into/conected to the religion.
also, a jewish name gives someone the identity as a jew (however not the depth of their religiousness)- meaning someone who has a jewish name clearly is jewsih and eveyrone knows they are jewish becuase of their jewish name. for example, in the world of celebrities....those celebrities who clearly have jewish names everyone knows are jewish (like adam brody)
additionally, on a more meaningful level, we see the importance of name throughout all of tanach. whenever someone is born in the torah is always says the name and why they were called this, thus showing the importance of having a meaningful name.
i think it is really nice when people name their children with significance, becuase then it is a constant reminder of ur position in the world and connection to it. it is really important it hink becuase a name is something that u are known by for ur entire life, so for that mere reason u should ifnd a connection to it

June 05, 2007 8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree with shira that our name has a great impact on who we are and even what happens to us. for example it is said that mong other things Ruth had the privelege of being directly connencted to David because of her name whichi is taken from shiROT v'tishbachot which refers to praises of David. The talmud also teaches us that a man name Chushim (which is a plural word) had a lot of kids beacuse of that. However, is it more favorable to give your child two names? The Rav of Startin who is cited in Sefer Brit Avot discourgaes it specifically if you are naming you child after two people who did not get along. The Tosafot says that it is most preferred to change nams slightly. This is shown when Yosef named Eprhaim for his name combines the names of Avraham and Yitzhak (Avraham called himself ashes or afer and Yitzhak was similar to the efer on the mizbeach). There is also something to be said for who actually comes up with the name (the mother rather than the father or visa versa) The Sephardic custom is that the father names first. Ben Ish CHai teaches us that Aharon named bothe of his sons the oldest Nadav for his maternal grandfather and the younger Avihu for his paretnal grandfather. The Ben Ish Chai says that is it foreshadowing that Nadav and Avihu will die in the lifetime of their parents because their names were given in reverse order. Some of this seems to be a little too much for me but none the less it is still very intresting to see how much a name could possibly affect someone. we all see that different names give us a different feeling about who we are and how we want to behave (for example why else would converts or balei teshuvas decided to give themselves a new hebrew name?)

June 06, 2007 7:27 PM  
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