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What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?


As each of my pregnancies progressed, my husband and I discussed potential names for our soon-to-be newborn baby. We pored over lists, girls’ and boys’ names, as well as names of deceased relatives.

Despite our many hours of deliberation, we didn’t name any of our children after the names we had initially chosen. As each child was finally born, we looked deeply into the newborn’s eyes and just knew what the name should be.

Parents have a form of divine prophecy when they name their children. A name is intrinsically connected to the essence of the individual’s soul and is the channel through which his spiritual life force flows. That’s why to arouse someone from a deep sleep or even a faint, call them by their name. To get their full attention or affection, address them by their name.

A generation ago, the Nazis dehumanized our people by discarding our names and treating us as numbers. By robbing us of our names, they tried to rob us of our humanity.

Names are a big part of this week’s Torah portion which is called Shemot, “Names,” and is also the title for the entire book of Exodus.

The portion starts with G‑d calling names: And these are the names of the children of Israel who came into Egypt . . . (Exodus 1:1–2)

G‑d counted the tribes again now, to express His love for them, by calling each one by their individual name. (Rashi)

The Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 1:28) learns from this that the Jews in Egypt did not change their Jewish names.

Even though they assimilated into Egyptian culture, the Jews held strong to their names, language and clothing. This would become their weapon in their spiritual battle to preserve their unique identity as the Jewish people.

When Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter, goes to bathe in the Nile, she notices a basket floating and realizes that the baby inside must be one of the Hebrew slaves.

Batya’s name means, “daughter of G‑d.” Though she was the daughter of Pharaoh who terrorized, enslaved and murdered the Jews, Batya acted as the daughter of G‑d by risking her life to save Moses.

Batya names this Hebrew baby, Moses. Although Moses had seven different names, the name that the Torah calls him and the name by which G‑d addresses him is the name given to him by Batya, due her selfless act.

Perhaps that’s the message of this portion and the entire book of Shemot.

To experience our own personal exodus, we need to view every person as an individual with his or her own exclusive set of struggles and challenges.

To preserve our humanity and to see another’s humanity, we must see them as a name—as an individual with a unique story and a unique destiny.

What’s your Hebrew name? How does it connect to your mission and individuality?

Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Suzy January 4, 2018

I have never understood the lack of desire or finding monotony in reading the names and the numbering of the tribes. I have a strong since of standing with them and being warmed by the sand at formation of each tribe. I am sixty four years old and each day find greater joy in my Jewishness. I grew up in America with elders that never wore anything with short sleeves to hide the remembrance of their numbering by evil. Yet they cherished that they stood numbered before G-d. Deep and wide is our history. So are the wounds of our history. Gratitude is where I desire to always be found and where I pray I will be spoken of in remembrance. Reply

Joseph Connecticut January 26, 2017

Names Thank you.Interesting explainations at the link Reply Staff January 25, 2017

To Joseph Good question. Please see this link where the issue is explained. Reply

Judith Berge Bethel Park PA January 20, 2017

Batya and the midwives career I like the fact that Batya, forever, has a good heart, one honest and courageous enough to raise a little guy named Moses. I haven't done any research into the legal age of becoming an adult in ancient Egypt, but whether it was say, 15 or 22, Moses evidently had a wonderful shining education, college and military. I think Shushah and Puah would've liked the WWII poster lady in our local history museum: a woman with her fist up, wearing a kerchief. At times, women obviously fight alongside everybody else to fight for right. One more understanding comes too; all three had to be the right one in the right place at the right time...Though I walk thru the shadow of death Thou are with me. Hey everybody, choose a right career! Reply

Anonymous New York January 20, 2017

My Hebrew name is ima sholom which translates mother of peace. I don't know is there such a name like this but that what I sound in hebrew Reply

Dina Leah Albuquerque NM USA January 19, 2017

To Anonymous in Toronto First, Happy Birthday!
When I moved to Israel (although I don't live there now), I asked my mom my Hebrew name. All she could remember I was named after her grandmother whom she never met (remained in Minsk when her mom came to the US in early 1900s. I have always hated my English name including a middle name. So, I decided on a Hebrew name that fit me, but using the same initial as what mom used for mg English name. My son was named after his paternal aunt who died as a freedom fighter against the Nazis. His middle name is mg paternal grandfather's Hebrew name, and He HATES it! He only uses the initial. My best friend in Israel chose her Hebrew name. The one given her was Yiddish which she didn't like.
You wouldn't believe how my son & DIL named my grandchildren. No middle names. All Hebrew since they live in Israel. Not usual bibilical names, but all have lovely meanings that fit each child.
So, choose a Hebrew name that fits you! Hashem will give you the inspiration! Reply

Gwynneth Howe-Watson nee Lewsen Johannesburg January 19, 2017

I like this article Reply

Claudia Sanchez Santa Fe January 19, 2017

Rut my Jewish name Reply

S U.K. January 18, 2017

Happy Birthday Happy Birthday anonymous in Toronto, chertish your name, in the light that HaShem cherishes you😁😁😁😁 Reply

jim dallas January 18, 2017

well.... to anonymous in toronto, canada..
i would like to see your name written in hebrew please?
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, better late... Reply

jim dallas January 18, 2017

second read, topnotch! great art, too, can't get over that!
comment? Respect, G-dly Respect, essential! Reply

An Orthodox rationalist Zurich, Switzerland January 18, 2017

Room for other views BS"D

This nicely written piece authentically reflects the mystical tradition of the Kabbalah, Zohar, and Chabad. Judaism per se can also accommodate other views; in particular, ones that are more in keeping with objectively verifiable reality.

When Shakespeare famously wrote "What's in a name?," - the title of this piece! - the implied answer to the rhetorical question (sorry to tell you) was "Nothing." That is the meaning of "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Names are human conventions and have no special connection to a person's soul or any other entity, real or imagined. Yet parents can choose a particular name for more than just arbitrary reasons. A name can be a sort of prayer: if we name our child after a loved one now departed, we preserve that person's memory and express the hope that the child will one day exemplify that person's virtues. And the finest old names are prayers in themselves -- Shlomo, peace; Shmuel, may G-d hear; Ephraim, may he be fruitful. Reply

James More Seaside City January 18, 2017

Baby in a basket The story of a baby floating in a basket down the Nile River is a lovable story and easier to believe than immaculate conception and yet the miracles done through Moses later in his life are harder to believe. Reply

Joseph Connecticut January 18, 2017

Names QUESTION:Why a Hebrew name?Would not Batya and Pharohs daughter give him an Eygptian name to protect him? Reply

Mlk Brockton Ma January 18, 2017

Whats in a name For me there was no question in my mind . My grandmother who lived with us was some one very special . Her name was Rose I named my daughter Robin . My cousin had a son way before I got married and asked me if could name her son after my grandmother . In the Jewish religion this an honor to use the name from one sex to another . She loved my grandmother very much . Reply

Brenton U.P. of Michigan (for now) January 17, 2017

HaMakom Nesharofe Yosef Rahm This is the Hebrew translation of my name in English. I was born to a Jewish mother and a German+American father. My mother did not know she was of Jewish descent then and for two generations before her there was not one practicing Jew in her family. My father's family had none ever that we know of. My mother and ny second cousin both thought of the same first and middle name, and they knew it was no coincidence. That is how I got my name. What it means is "The burned Place, G-d will exalt". I believe it is tied to my mission in a very real way. I believe it is prophetic of a rebuilt Temple, b'zrat HaShem. Reply

Anonymous January 17, 2017

Very nice. My name is Arye. I have told my children many times that I was raised by lions. They now joke about it with me, but when they were young...Isn't there a conflict between the pride we have of our name and the ego we're trying to suppress. I've come to the conclusion that there are times for each. Every Jew needs to be a warrior. Warriors have egos and powerful names. See, studying all day in the Yeshiva narrows your mind. Who am I kidding? I'd be much happier if I had the discipline to be religious. Reply

Alice Torrance January 17, 2017

Very interesting..nice
Thank you Reply

jim dallas January 16, 2017

so absolutely, right! very well told by the way! and the opening illustration by sefira...that must have been created after reading this article, it could be a portrait of the author, at the very least, the artist had to have insight into your intention and plans for the article! SUPER all the way around, beautiful!
yes, the name is special a clue, past and future, and this is more recognized today than yesterday i think. and too, the energies, the communications from HaShems realm, most important! all very significant and true!
thanks, i enjoyed the read and art show! both masterpieces! Reply

Anonymous Toronto, anada January 16, 2017

Connection to my Hebrew name. . .? All of my life ( even now as a long-time Ba'al Teshuva ) I hav been embarrassed and disliked even, my Hebrew names, "Chaya Ettel". I am named after my Bubby, OBM
and Alte Bubby, OBM. I unfortunately did not have the opportunity, the joy of knowing them as they passed away long before I was born. I have heard from all who knew them that they were wonderful * Yiddishe women. * Not Shomer Shabbos (shabbat observant) however, but did light Shabbos candles, etc. I was not observant for well over thirty years before I found my way back, B"H, so that confuses me even more. I never judged their type of observance ( or any Yid's ) or rather lack of observance so anyone have any thoughts on why I am so anti my Hebrew names? My children and grandchildren, B"H, are all called by their Hebrew names - that's all they have! So ... nu, any ideas. Tomorrow is my birthday,; most likely that is why this is bothering me so much lately. Thanks. Reply

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