Thirty-four years ago, my first husband, to whom I had been married for more than 16 years, committed suicide. It was a terrible time for me and our two children, and the kind of anger and grief associated with such an event is inexpressible.

It took me 10 years and the devotion of I made the decision to begin reinventing my life my second husband to come out of the fog of overwhelming, swamping emotions associated with such a horror. But in the 10th year, I made the decision to begin reinventing my life, starting with legally changing my English name to Emma Rose.

I didn’t want ever again to be called by any of the names I was called before, especially those hurled at me in anger. My new name held a softness to it, yet lent strength to my effort to heal and begin to live life again as a whole, and wholly new, person. It was a herculean effort to shed the hard shell of fear and anger and hurt that stood in the way of forgiving myself and my husband, and breaking out of my chrysalis. But with therapy, love and medications for my bipolar disorder, my new name helped me evolve from a caterpillar to a butterfly.

When I entered my 60s, I began a new quest. Jewish by birth, the child of two Jewish parents, I was not raised in a Jewish home. I have no memory of my birth father, and my mother converted to Christianity when I was very young. My only exposure to Judaism was during visits with my grandparents, who were New York Orthodox Jews.

Without knowing why, I began to yearn for a closer connection to my Jewish roots. I started reading about Judaism, went to services where I could connect with other Jews, and delighted in memories that surfaced of Jewish songs and prayers learned when I was a young child visiting my grandparents. The memory of Shabbat candles and a kosher kitchen, and other feelings and memories I could piece together, began to touch my heart and soul, and lead me forward.

I began replicating those kinds of things in my own home by lighting Shabbat candles, placing mezuzahs in doorways and starting the process of finding a way to eventually make mine a kosher home. I shared Shabbat meals with the Goldwassers, Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in Mobile, Ala., and felt the yearning and tug of my soul supporting me in my quest.

I have been publishing stories about my journey discovering my neshama, my Jewish soul, for some months now. When I decided to chronicle that journey, I also decided to use the name Rachel Leah, the Hebrew name given me by my beloved Grandma.

In his book, “Positivity Bias,” Mendel Kalmenson states that one way the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson—chose to empower others was “to link his encouragements and blessings to their given name.”

“This practice, “ Kalmenson continues, “is based on the Talmudic statement that Rabbi Meir would find references to a person’s character in his name, and on the Kabbalistic idea which asserts that any person or thing is on some spiritual level defined by and further revealed through the word(s) by which they are called, which means that their inner essence can be creatively explicated through the prism of their name.”1

Rachel and Leah, two matriarchs of the Jewish people, were both strong, both compassionate and both figured hugely in the history of our people. Although the two of them often struggled to create peace and harmony between them, they were always together. Rachel gave up her right to marry her beloved as a way of protecting her sister. Leah prayed for her childless sister to become the mother of a son—another Jewish leader, Joseph. I felt buoyed by my name, doubly blessed. I needed direction and strength to propel me on my way to living a Jewish life. What better way to start than with two names connoting determination, rock-solid Jewish faith and the founding of an entire nation.

Rachel and Leah were bookends in personality. Leah changed her fate with her intense prayers for her futureWhile Rachel was bright, extroverted and brave, Leah changed her fate with her intense prayers for her future. Together, they were irrepressible. Although Rachel died young and was buried without fanfare, her place in Jewish history will never fade. Stories of her physical beauty, and her soul-deep inner beauty and strength of character live on. I am so proud to carry both names and the traditions they represent.

Thus, my nom de plume, which is really my “real name” because my real self is the Jewish self I am finally in touch with and the writer’s name I proudly use to tell my story of Jewish growth.

It speaks to the one side of me that, like Leah, has shed tears of confusion as I struggle to live an ever more Jewishly oriented life; and to the other side that, like Rachel, exuberantly embraces my life and pride in being a Jewish woman.

Like their husband Jacob, who fought and won the battle with his brother Esau’s guardian angel, and whose name was changed thereafter to “Israel”—the name both of our people and our land—I have my name, Rachel Leah, to breathe into, garner strength from and be reminded by that I am a daughter of the G‑d of Israel and a carrier of the torch of my people.