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

To learn about a specific name, see Jewish boys' names and Jewish girls' names.