Choosing the right Jewish name
Last week we looked at the significance of Jewish names. Today, choosing them. If you happen to be in the market for a name – or if you want to lend some advice to someone who is – a wealth of suggestions is waiting for you online.
Many Ashkenazim start their quest by considering naming after a family member. Rabbi Paysach Krohn quotes one of the founders of Chassidut in Galicia, Poland, Rabbi Elimelech of Lyzhansk, who said that there is a profound connection between the soul of an infant and the soul of the person for whom he or she is named. “When a child is named after the deceased, the latter’s soul is elevated to a higher realm in heaven and a spiritual connection is created between the soul of the departed and the soul of the newborn child.” [http://bit.ly/jname12]
As for guidelines, the Naming a Jewish Baby site addresses such questions as how to honour, whom to honour, how to spell the name and whether you can change your name. [http://bit.ly/jname13] Remember: get your info from a website but before you choose, consult with your rabbi.
Now to get started. First stop: the Bible. As Lisa Katz points out, there are about 2,800 names mentioned in the Bible, but only about five per cent of those names are used today. (Think of how many Davids and Esthers you’ve met compared to Arpachshads and Maacahs.) [http://bit.ly/jname14]
There are several excellent sites where you can look up names including JewishBabyNames [http://bit.ly/jname15] BabyNameWorld [http://bit.ly/jname16] and the Hebrew site Zooloo. [http://bit.ly/jname17] If you are looking for a Hebrew equivalent to a secular name, type it in at this site and see what you get. [http://bit.ly/jname18] Babynamer.com isn’t a Jewish site, but it does index over 700 Hebrew names. You can even specify the first letter of the name and how many syllables you are looking for. With most names, you are given a definition. For example, Liora is “God’s gift of light to me.”
When selecting a name, parents walk a tightrope between choosing a unique moniker and one that’s become too popular. The U.S. Social Security Administration keeps tracks of baby-naming trends. For example, in 2011, “Chaya” was the 715th most popular girl’s name and “Chaim” ranked 782nd for boys. (For the record, “Jacob” has been No. 1 since 1999. “Emily” reigned until 2007, followed by “Emma,” “Isabella” and, most recently, “Sophia.”) [http://bit.ly/jname21]
Of course, Jewish names aren’t just for newborns. Rabbi Maurice Lamm has advice for converts who want to choose the right name. [http://bit.ly/jname20]
As many sites point out, your name signals your identity and heritage. That was certainly the case when Stretch Cunningham passed away. Stretch was the pal of Archie Bunker on television’s All in the Family. Archie and his wife, Edith, were shocked to discover their friend’s actual name and religion when they showed up for the funeral. [http://bit.ly/jname22]
Edith: I guess Stretch must have been Jewish.
Archie: Stretch, Jewish! With a name like Cunningham.
Edith: Oh well, Archie. What’s in a name?
Archie: A Jewish name’s ain’t supposed to have no “ham” in it!