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Hebrew Names: You Don’t Have to be Religious to Enjoy

Congratulations, you’re having a baby! Your life may be filled with more celebration and choices than you want to handle. Or, you may be struggling to prepare and make ends-meet. In this midst of this whirlwind, I want to make a pitch for one additional blessing of being a Jew. In addition to one or two names in English, you get to give your child as many Hebrew Name as want!

This mitzvah, sacred act, also comes with a bounty of benefits.

1) A Hebrew baby naming ceremony: A Hebrew name provides one more opportunity for celebration, song, and blessing. Also, it’s another opportunity for presents.

2) More options for your child to express their identity: As a young person develops, and matures, they naturally change and explore. As this journey unfolds, at some point they might want experiment with a new name or nickname. They might go through a big life transition, go through an identity crisis or a transformation. The more names they have, the more options will be available for them to choose something which will be different from their first name in English while also offering a way to stay connected to their family, history, and heritage.

3) More possibilities to connect with their heritage: A person’s name is a connection to their recent and ancient history. By giving your child a Hebrew name (or multiple Hebrew names) you are providing them with more access points to remember and explore the richness of their heritage.

4) Easily resolve tensions about who to honor with your child’s name: Are you and your partner struggling with what name to pick, what qualities you want this name to highlight, and/or what family member you want to remember with the child’s name? No problem! In addition to a first and middle name in English, you get one (or more) Hebrew names. Struggle resolved, yes to all the options! Yes, I know it’s not that simple, but it does give you a choice to say yes to more than two options!

5) It’s never too late: Jewish tradition teaches us that it’s never too late to take on a Hebrew name or add a Hebrew name. If you never received a Hebrew name as a child, it’s never too late. Talk to your local Rabbi and let them help you create a meaningful ritual to mark this reconnection to your heritage. If you are going through something difficult in your life, there is also an ancient tradition to adding a Hebrew name to the one you already have. The Jewish sages saw this a way of re-orienting our destiny or perhaps even confusing the angel of death.

6) You don’t have to be Orthodox or religious: Judaism is your heritage, regardless of what denomination you belong to or whether you haven’t stepped into a synagogue in decades. We are your people, or at the very least, we are some of your people. This means you get to draw on our history and traditions. You get to have a Hebrew name, or two, or five! Don’t let any stop you. Talk to your local Rabbi, any Rabbi, and they'll be happy to help you create a ritual to take to formally (or informally) take on a Jewish name.

Jewish traditions, ancient and modern, provide many ideas for how to choose a name. The most common ones are the differences between Ashkenazim – Jews most recently from Europe, and Sephardim – Jews most recently from Spain or the Middle East. For Ashkenazim, the custom is to honor a family member by giving a newborn child their name or a name which starts with the same letter as their name, of a family member who has died. Never passing up the opportunity for complexity in our Jewish family tree, Sephardim have the opposite tradition. Their intention is the same, but Sephardim generally name a baby after a family member who is still living.

Some people believe that choosing a name is like a mini-prophecy, a kind of parental intuition about what qualities the person will embody as they mature. Some look at the names in the Torah portion when the baby is born or other religious texts to find a name. Others look more broadly, through famous Jews throughout history of popular Jewish names in Israel.

Naturally, there are also lists of Jewish/Hebrew/Yiddish names. If you’re looking resources, Kveller and Chabad will provide you with ideas and perspectives from the breadth of our tradition. Take a look at:


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