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What Is a Jewish Name?

What Is a Jewish Name?

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First a word about names and their significance: Names are considered very significant in Judaism. The sages of the Midrash recommend that “one should name one’s child after a righteous person, for sometimes the name influences the person’s behavior and destiny.”1 As such, Jewish parents have always searched for positive names to give their children, often naming after deceased relatives and righteous scholars.2

Rabbi Judah HaChassid (1150-1217) writes that a righteous person’s deeds affect all who are given his name.3 And naming after one’s parents is a form of honoring them.4

Over the generations there have been several types of Jewish names: 1) Biblical names, 2) Talmudic names, 3) Names from the animal world, 4) Names from nature, 5) Names that include G‑d’s name, 6) Names of angels. Then there are the many derivatives and nicknames based on these names.

These days, we are encouraged to choose meaningful names that have been passed down for generations. But even if a name is not particularly meaningful, there is no reason to change it unless a person was named after someone wicked.5

Jewish boys are named during the ritual circumcision (brit milah), and Jewish girls are named at the first synagogue Torah reading following their birth. The Jewish name given at that time remains with the person for the rest of his or her life. And while one may also have a secular name, it is preferable to use one’s Jewish name whenever possible.6

Jewish names come from many languages—Hebrew, Yiddish, German, Latin, Greek, Russian, etc. It is not necessary to translate the name into Hebrew for it to be considered a Jewish name.7

FOOTNOTES
1.

Midrash Tanchuma, Haazinu 7.

2.

Parents have also named their children in honor of major life events. According to the sages in the Midrash, however, this practice was appropriate only in biblical times:

Rabbi Yosei said: In the old days, people knew their complete pedigrees; therefore, they created names after events. We, however, do not know our complete pedigrees; therefore, we give names after our ancestors. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said: In the old days, they knew how to use the spirit of prophecy, and therefore they created names after events. We, however, do not know how to use the spirit of prophecy; therefore, we give names after our ancestors. (Genesis Rabbah 37:7)

3.

Sefer Chassidim 363-4.

4.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:66.

5.

See the letter by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in Shaarei Halachah Uminhag, vol. 5, p. 243; Rabbi Menashe Klein, Mishneh Halachot 4:114; Igrot Moshe ibid.

6.

See the Rebbe’s talk of Shavuot 1978 (Sichot Kodesh 5738, vol. 3, p. 108).

7.

See Shaarei Halachah Uminhag ibid.

Dovid Zaklikowski is the director of Lubavitch Archives, a freelance journalist and public speaker. Dovid and his wife Chana Raizel are the proud parents of four: Motti, Meir, Shaina & Moshe Binyomin.
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Discussion (7)
August 12, 2012
My familly surnames Frug -פרוג-Фруг root
However, Frug'surname recorded by the open"u" and closed "ó" Frug's-(Fróg) - פרוג-Фруг. there is no equivalent either in German or Polish, so it is purely and exclusively jewish
Dariusz Frug-Kobylarz
Rudnik , Poland
July 11, 2012
Dear Dvorah/Irene,
Disclaimer: I'm not a rabbi. With that out of the way...
If you had no "Jewish" name before your Bat Mitzvah, and the name Dvorah called to you and seemed to fit and you chose it with kavana/intention, then you absolutely have the right to consider it your Jewish name. People will ask and probably have asked, :"how did your parents get Dvora from Ilene?", and you can proudly say you chose your own Jewish name, one with layers of meaning and the name of a great Judge and leader of her time!
To officially be named you need to be named in the synagogue, ask your rabbi about how to do that.
Kol tuv/All goodness,
Reb Zisha
July 6, 2012
Jewish nane
I chose my Jewish name by the time of my Bat Mitzvah because my parents had not given me one. I cosider Dvorah, the name I have chosen, my Jewish name. Do I have the right to cosider it my Jewish name?
Irene Alhanati Cardillo
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil
June 26, 2012
names - their importance
I remember reading somewhere that the reason that certain Israelites were not able to joijn the exodus from Egypt is "because they changed their names". Can anyone tell me which midrash (I think( this was? Thank you.
michael
Phoenix, AZ/USA
June 25, 2012
Our last names any indication of our heritage?
As I understand the subject the mother of the person is what determines if that person is Jewish or not ( as in offspring of Abraham ) ? If this is the case then are last names that are always given as past down from the father and not the mother is what we are named. This seems to be a catch 22. Can you help me out here. I can ofer my name as a example if you like to use it as a example. I make no claim to be Jewish, I only have a love for the Holy Land and her people. My last name is unusual for here in America ( Lewin ) . My research has shown it is a variation from the Polish / German of the name Levin.
Anonymous
Jasonville, IN
June 14, 2012
Re: naming after animals
When giving a child the name of an animal, it isn't the actual animal that is being immortalized, rather it is the specific quality with which this animal has and we hope to learn from. The Torah lists certain people as having the quality of animals, for example Judah was compared to lion and Benjamin to a wolf, and THAT is who we hope to connect to when giving our children the names of these animals.
Eliezer Zalmanov
for Chabad.org
June 14, 2012
naming after animals
if a name does not have to be hebrew to be jewish, then that must mean that the importance of the name is derived from the source, ie. the person whom the child is named after, and not necessarily the language of the name.

so if it's about connecting to the source, wouldn't it seem that naming after animals (no matter the language) would be "detrimental" so to speak? I personally love names that are rooted in sources from nature and animals, but it would seem that these types of names would not be a good choice.

Can you please explain this? thank you!
shevy
brooklyn, ny
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