Your Jewish name

The Jewish Internet

Mark Mietkiewicz

With Mark Mietkiewicz, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

Your Jewish name says a great deal about you. It hints at when and where you were born, how traditional your parents were when they chose your name, your family’s roots — and according to Jewish tradition, it reveals aspects of your personality.

“The name of a person describes his or her essence,” explains Cantor Mark Kirshblum. “Just as God empowered Adam when He assigned him the first independent human act, the task of naming the beasts of the field, the birds of the sky and every living thing …A name can be a portent for the future or a wish that the person live up to the potential expressed in the meaning of the name. It is important, therefore, to give much thought to a child’s shem kodesh, sacred or Hebrew name (”

The connection between a name and one’s soul has deep kabalistic roots. Rabbi Paysach Krohn points out that the Hebrew word for “soul” — neshama — is spelled with the letters Nun, Shin, Mem and Hay.  The Hebrew word for “name” — shem – spelled Shin, Mem — is contained within the word neshama, indicating the strong connection between one’s name and one’s soul, or essence (

There is a belief that after death, an angel asks each soul for its Hebrew name. In order to train their soul not to forget, there is a tradition for people to insert a verse that alludes to their name each time they recite the Shmoneh Esreh prayer. For example, if your name is Sarah (spelled Sin, Resh, Hay), you look for the verse that begin with the Hebrew letter Sin and ends with the letter Hay: “Se’oo yedaychem kodesh, u’varcha et Hashem.” “Lift your hands in the Sanctuary and bless God (Psalms 134:2).” You can find the traditional verses that correspond to most Hebrew names at:

Jewish tradition has always placed a higher value on someone’s first name than on the family name. Only the first name and father’s name are used when being called up to the Torah.

Similarly, it is a person’s first name and nicknames that are crucial to the validity of the divorce document, the get (

A given name can yield vital clues when researching your family tree. For example, if you are trying to guess what Great-Aunt Fannie’s Jewish name was back in Europe, the Given Names Data Base database suggests it might have been:

Franya, Frumka, Vromot in Poland;
Feyge, Foygl, Froma in Hungary;
Fanni, Freydele, Fanya in Galicia (

And if you have a question about the origin of a Sephardic name, you can join the Sefard Forum E-mail Discussion List (

Your Jewish name is yours for life and tradition rarely allows it to be changed.

One exception is for serious illness ( Rabbi Simkha Weintraub quotes the Talmud that says that one of the things that “may cause an evil decree passed on a person to be cancelled (is a) change of name.” A man who is ill may be given an additional name such as Raphael (God heals) while a woman may be named Bracha (blessing).

Finally a story via Rabbi Berel Wein about a brit milah that a friend of his attended. When the rabbi asked the father what he was going to name the newborn boy, the father responded:

“Avraham, Yitzchok, Yakov, David, Shlomo, Yosef.”

The rabbi was astounded. “Why such a string of names?”

“Rabbi, I am a poor man so the child won’t have much of an inheritance… If he resembles my wife’s side of the family he probably won’t be that smart. And if he looks like my side of the family, he is not going to be too handsome, either. So, I decided, let him at least have a good name (”

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