Every year as Hanukkah approaches, writers and others struggle to find the right word. Menorah or hanukiah? Are the two terms the same? Is one more proper than the other when describing the lamp lit on Hanukkah? Read on as we bring light to this subject.

In Hebrew the word menorah simply means “lamp,” and can refer to any number of lamps, including the seven-branched candelabra lit every day in (the traveling Tabernacle and then) the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This menorah sits at the heart of the story of Chanukah, when we celebrate how the menorah was kindled with just enough oil to last for one day but miraculously remained lit for eight days.

For much of our history, menorah has also referred to the celebratory eight- (or nine-)flame candelabra lit in Jewish homes and public spaces for the eight nights of Hanukkah.

Sometime around the turn of the 20th century, the Hanukkah menorah received a second name: hanukiah is a Modern Hebrew term, attributed to Hemda Ben-Yehudah (1873–1951), which refers only to the Hanukkah lamp and no other.

Which term is preferable to use when referencing the Hanukkah lamp? It depends.

When speaking Modern Hebrew, one can safely assume that the audience would be more familiar with the term hanukiah, especially since menorah can also refer to a ceiling light. However, when speaking to an English-speaking audience, menorah is more historically accurate and therefore the preferred term.