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Can a Change of Name Create a Change of Destiny?

Can a Change of Name Create a Change of Destiny?

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What’s in a name?

Have you ever thought about what influence your name has on you—on your personality, behavior patterns and life choices?

A growing body of research suggests that an individual’s name can have a profound impact that can reverberate from childhood to adulthood. A study by professors at the University of Melbourne and New York University found that people with simple, easy-to-pronounce names are more likely to be favored for a promotion at work. “The impact of names comes from how people expect to see you,” says a professor from Ohio University. And while pre-judging people based on their name might seem unfair, we sometimes do so subconsciously when making decisions.

An individual’s name can have a profound impact

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes how in Thailand, when faced with a patch of bad luck, many are changing their names to create better prospects. Businesses advising Thais how to choose new names are becoming a booming new industry.

So research indicates that a person’s name can even affect career choices. But is the significance of a name just about perceptions, or is there something innately spiritual about the name itself that has a power over the individual?

Names are considered very significant in Judaism. Your Jewish name is the channel by which life reaches you from Above. In fact, the Kabbalists say that when parents name a child, they experience a minor prophecy—because, somehow, that child’s destiny is wrapped up in the combination of Hebrew letters that make up his or her name. 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” (Midrash Tanchuma, Haazinu 7).

If a name has an intrinsic effect on the person, can a change of name change one’s destiny?

Changing one’s name to create a change of fortune actually has its roots in Judaism. That’s why if someone is dangerously ill, we might provide him with an additional name, like Chaim (or Chaya), meaning “life,” or Refael (or Refaela), “cure.”

The first recorded story of a name change that led to an incredible change of destiny wasIf someone is dangerously ill, we might provide him with an additional name that of Sarah and Abraham.

The episode took place when Abraham was 90 years old. G‑d appeared to him and told him that He would be making an everlasting covenant with him, and that he and Sarah would be blessed with a child of their own. Let’s see how the text reads:

And Abram was ninety-nine years old, and G‑d appeared to Abram, and He said to him, "I am the Almighty God; walk before Me and be perfect. And I will place My covenant between Me and between you, and I will multiply you very greatly… And your name shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. And I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings will emerge from you. (Gen. 17: 1-2, 4-5)

G‑d then commanded Abraham that he and all his male children should be circumcised as a sign of the covenant. His wife’s name, Sarai, should also be changed, and then she would experience the miracle of childbirth despite her old age.

And G‑d said to Abraham, "Your wife Sarai--you shall not call her name Sarai, for Sarah is her name. And I will bless her, and I will give you a son from her, and I will bless her, and she will become a mother of nations; kings of nations will be from her.” And Abraham fell on his face and rejoiced, and he said to himself, "Will a child be born to one who is a hundred years old, and will Sarah, who is ninety years old, give birth?" (Gen. 17: 15-17)

The Talmud explains that Abraham and Sarah’s change of name created a change in their status--rather than a particular mission, they now assumed a universal mission. The Talmud (Brachot 13a) explains:

Abram who is Abraham. In the beginning he was the father to Aram, in the end he became the father of the world. Sarai, this is Sarah. In the beginning she was Sarai to this nation and in the end she became Sarah to the whole world.

AbramRather than a particular mission, they now assumed a universal mission means “Av Ram,” father of Aram, since he originated from the city of Aram Naharayim. His name was changed to Abraham, “Av Hamon Goyim,” father of a multitude of nations.

The Malbim (Gen. 17:15) expounds:

Sarai, given her name by Abraham, means “Sarasi Sheli,” my princess and superior. Abraham was now commanded that in his new status of “Av Hamon Goyim,” the father of a multitude of nations, his wife, too, was to take on a more universal status which would be reflected in the name, Sarah, princess par excellence and not just princess of Abraham.

Let’s take a closer look at the text describing these name changes. G‑d told Abraham, “Your name shall become Abraham.” Regarding Sarah’s name change, on the other hand, the text reads, “Sarah is her name.”

Abraham required an added dimension and spiritual transformation to become Abraham. Sarah, though, already was Sarah.

The Talmud (Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin 2;6) explains:

Rabbi Huna said, quoting Rabbi Acha: The letter yud which was removed from Sarai’s name was divided into two letters, one hei was added to Abram and the other to Sarah.

The change in Sarai’s name involved the division of the yud of Sarai into two heis. Yud, numerically equivalent to ten, was split into two heis, numerically equivalent to 5, to share of Sarai’s spirituality. Therefore, the text reads, “Sarah is her name;” Sarai already represented all the spirituality of Sarah.

In fact this yud taken from Sarai’s name was later added to her descendant’s name, Joshuah, Moses’ successor. He was one of the 12 spies sent to survey the land of Israel. Though his name was originally Hoshea, Moshe changed his name to Yehoshuah, Joshua, gifting him with the present of Sarah’s spiritual yud. This gave him an added dimension of spirituality, so that he would have the courage to withstand the plot of the spies and bring back a true, positive report about the Land to the Jewish people. His new name achieved the sought after results, as only he and one other spy refuted the others’ negative report.

Aside from teaching us about Sarah’s incredible spiritual strength and her ability to share it with others, the episode demonstrates that there’s more to a name than meets the eye.

So what’s in a name? Apparently lots.

A name connects us to our soul. It provides us with spiritual ammunition, allowing usA name connects us to our soul. to access spiritual strengths we may have never known we had.

How about you? What’s your Jewish name? Do you use it proudly? Is it time to research what it means and what hidden spiritual powers it holds?

Let’s Review:

  • When Abram was 90, G‑d appeared to him to make an everlasting covenant, change his name, and inform him that he would have a child from Sarah.
  • Abram’s name was changed to Abraham, meaning “the father of a multitude of nations.” With this new name, he underwent a spiritual transformation and was entrusted with a universal mission.
  • G‑d also informed Abraham that Sarai’s name would now be Sarah, “a princess for the whole world.”
  • The letter yud, which is numerically ten, was taken off of Sarai’s name and split into two heis, numerically five. One hei was added to Abram’s name and the other one to Sarah’s name. Therefore the text says, “Sarah is her name.” She already encompassed the full spirituality of her name.
  • Sarah’s yud was later added to Joshuah’s name to provide him with extra spiritual strength to negate the spies’ evil report on the Land.
  • When parents name their child, they experience a minor prophecy. A name connects an individual to his soul and can affect his destiny.

What’s your Jewish name? Do you use it proudly? What does it mean and what hidden powers does it hold?


Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
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Anonymous Florida August 24, 2017

My name is Harvey. As a child in Hebrew school, I was told my Hebrew name is Tsvi. My parents were more Yiddish oriented and told me my Yiddish name is Herschel. So what? To me, a much more interesting topic is the effect on one's life of changing one's Jewish last name to a gentile one, which my father did as a young man. I submit that decision had a life-changing impact on me. Reply

Anonymous May 25, 2017

Thank you for this great article. Was the answer to the question - yes or no? Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for Chabad.org February 23, 2017

Re: Hebrew Names Not every English name has a Hebrew equivalent. If you are Jewish, then you should choose a name that is closest sounding to your given name. Reply

Doug Spokane, WA USA February 22, 2017

Hebrew Names Do only Jewish people receive names with meaning? My name-Douglas means by the dark stream in Scottish. I' like to know what it means in Hebrew. Can you tell where to find out? Thank you. Reply

M. Diane Queens, NY August 29, 2016

I would like a new name and a brand new beginning. My maternal grandmother's name was Muriel and I only recently (a couple of months ago) learned it is a Hebrew name (not surprised). It means fragrance of G-d. How lovely. My mother's name is Marguerite, mostly a European name, although I did come across in a video about the Rebbe a woman he sent on a mission whose name was marguerite. I grew up as Diane. I know it is a Hebrew name. I don't think that Diane has very good numbers associated with it. Am I correct about that? Perhaps it is time for a change. I heard somewhere that all one needs to start fresh is a new name and a wig. Now that is intriguing. Reply

Mrs. Chana Weisberg via chabadone.org August 29, 2016

to Sara The spelling is based on the hebrew spelling. Each hebrew letter has its own spiritual energy that it is infused into one's name. Reply

Sara August 28, 2016

Does the spelling of the name make a difference in how the mind works? Reply

DL Lee Kansas city August 18, 2016

I use the initials DL in most settings. My birth name is Derrick Le'Troy (1st & middle) but, I have adopted a spiritual representation as well,God's "Devoted Laborer". @ times it's a bit much to explain to people. So, I am working on a way to combine the two or maybe just changing my name to Devoted... Not sure... Reply

Mrs. Chana Weisberg via chabadone.org March 18, 2016

to jessie Rachel means an ewe, that serene lovable animal. Reply

Jessie UK March 16, 2016

To Chana What does the name "Rachel" mean in Hebrew? Reply

Sivan Atlanta November 3, 2015

I wanted to change my name Sivan, by adding to it, but I don't know what to add because I don't want it to be difficult to pronounce in the business world. Reply

Mrs. Chana Weisberg via chabadone.org August 31, 2015

to chaviva Absolutely! Your hebrew name has a connection to your soul essence. Why not wear something so special upfront? Reply

Chaviva August 30, 2015

Chana, thank you for this. What do you think about changing our names to be our Hebrew names? My first name is very not Jewish and I've always related more to my Hebrew name. Can I wear it upfront as this article suggests? Reply

yochannan November 6, 2014

a lot of names are good to the ear, the nice names are like a melody and the bad names are not.

Each name has a melody a harmony its like a song, it makes a person feel good. The angels the malachim are associated with harmony.

Most if not all of the name changes in Torah they sounded nicer after the change, this is also in The Purpose, of G-d after all as much nice as possible. G-d making a nice world for us.


Shalom Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for Chabad.org November 5, 2014

To Anonymous in Fairfax If your parents did not give you a Jewish name at birth you can choose one for yourself. It is best that it be similar sounding to your given name, or at least begins with the same sound. Your rabbi should be able to help you in the selection process, as well as the in the procedure or making it "official." Reply

George Phoenix, AZ via chabadsf.org November 5, 2014

What's in a Name? Well-researched, well-written, thought-provoking and a joy to read. Reply

bobbyb United Kingdom November 5, 2014

What a great informative and inspiring article. Thank you. I really enjoyed reading it and my light shines brighter because of it. Reply

Anonymous fairfax November 4, 2014

Change of name Shalom, what if there is no Jewish name? Many of us from Jewish lineage were not given Jewish names by our parents. How would you address such situations and how do you suggest we move forward getting a Jewish name. Reply

yochannan November 3, 2014

again an excellent article. Whats in a Name, G-d is in a Name, Melech David etc all were protected in The Name of G-d, The Psalms show us. Else where in Torah we see this many times by the Prophets.


Shalom Aleichem Reply

KJ Texas October 30, 2014

So here's my take on it. Sarah was already Sarah, but Abraham wasn't quite there yet. It seems to be the reverse of the creation. Part of Adam's physical body was taken to make the physical body of Eve. But on the spiritual level, part of Sarah's name (and hence what that represents) was taken and shared with Abraham. Reply

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