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Why Do I Need a “Hebrew Name”?

Why Do I Need a “Hebrew Name”?



On the most basic level, a Jewish name is a keystone of Jewish identity. Our sages tell us that although more than two centuries of exile and slavery had all but assimilated the Children of Israel into the pagan society of Egypt, they remained a distinct entity because they retained their Hebrew "names, language and dress," and thus merited their miraculous redemption.

On a deeper level, the book of Genesis teaches that G‑d created the world with "speech" ("And G‑d said, 'Let there be light!', and there was light" etc.). In the Kabbalah it is explained that the 22 sacred letters of the Hebrew alef-bet are the spiritual "building blocks" of all created reality, and that the name of a thing in the Holy Tongue represents the combination of sacred letters that reflects its distinct characteristics and the purpose and role towards which it was created.

Your Hebrew name is your spiritual call sign, embodying your unique character traits and G‑d-given gifts. Ideally, you should use it 24 hours a day, not just when you're called to the Torah or when prayers are offered on your behalf. Your Hebrew name functions as a conduit, channeling spiritual energy from G‑d into your soul and your body. This is why, say the Chassidic masters, an unconscious person will often respond and be revived when his or her name is called. According to Jewish custom, a critically ill person is sometimes given an additional Hebrew name -- somewhat like a spiritual bypass operation to funnel fresh spirituality around their existing name and into their bodies; with the influx of spirituality, the body is given renewed vigor to heal itself.

How do I give/get a Hebrew name?

Usually, your Hebrew name is applied to you soon after birth. Jewish boys are named at their brit (circumcision), and girls at a Torah reading shortly after their birth. Your name is selected by your parents who usually name you after a dear departed loved one, most often an ancestor. Or, if they don’t have anyone to memorialize, you just might end up with a Hebrew name of their own preference. Either way, however, our sages have declared that your parents' choice of a name constitutes a "minor prophecy", since the name they choose conforms with the inborn nature of your soul.

If your parents didn't give you a brit or didn't name you at a Torah reading -- or if you're a non-Jew who's converting to Judaism -- you can select any Hebrew name that resonates with you. Often, people will choose a name that is phonetically similar and/or of similar meaning to their "given" name (e.g., Bernie becomes Baruch or Validmir becomes Ze'ev).

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Anonymous October 28, 2017

Is there a Hebrew name for Mindy? Reply

Simcha Bart for October 30, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

To my knowledge, there is no actual Hebrew version of Mindy, though some associate this with the name Miriam. Reply

Anonymous New York September 8, 2017

My daughter in law converted to Judaism, when the baby was born she named her Valentina, what Jewish name could it be? Reply

Rabbi Yossi Grossbaum, for Folsom, CA September 14, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

I've heard of some people with the name Valentina having a Jewish name of Chaya. (Valentina is associated with health and strength, Chaya means life; perhaps that's the connection). Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for January 18, 2016

Re: Richard Not every secular name has a Hebrew equivalent. It is customary to choose a similar sounding name, or one with that begins with the same letter. Reply

Yonatan Binyamin David Simcha Hickory, North Carolina July 30, 2017
in response to Eliezer Zalmanov:

Meaning more than Aleph-Bet Or with similar meaning, translated to Hebrew. That was my case, when your First Generation Polish Orthodox Jewish Mother marries a Roman Catholic whose mother was Scottish and father was Irish. So needless to say "family names" of tradition and ancestors may not exactly "sound similar". So our Orthodox Rabbi suggested picking a name with the exact same or similar meaning in Hebrew. Reply

Anonymous Ohio January 16, 2016

What is the Hebrew equivalent to Richard? Reply

Yonatan Binyamin David Simcha Hickory, Norfh Carolina July 30, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

ריצ'רד "Guri" Reply

Katie usa December 18, 2015

just a question... Does one use their Hebrew name after their conversion in day to day life? Reply

Yonatan Binyamin David Simcha Hickory, North Carolina July 30, 2017
in response to Katie:

Depends on cultural and desired needs.

In the US, many use their "Legal Name" as it appears on one's ID.

In Israel, it is common to go by your Hebrew Name, especially those who came from outside of Israel and settled there, they may take their "Geocentric Ethnic" name (Russian, German, Polish, et cetera) and replace it with their Hebrew Name.

Just look up any famous person of Israeli history and compare their "birth name" to the name they used in their "public life" (such as Prime Ministers).

So it truly depends on your comfort level.

Many converts seem to go either way by habit or practice. Reply

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