The right name

The Jewish Internet with Mark Mietkiewicz

Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

Mark Mietkiewicz

Last month we looked at the significance of Jewish names. Now, we look at 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 — there is a wealth of suggestions 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 (”

Although Sephardim may honor a living family member by naming a child after them, Ashkenazi Jews do not follow the same practice.

As the Ritual Reality website explains, “they rarely name children after living relatives, probably dating from a superstition of the Middle Ages to avoid having the Angel of Death take the newborn child instead of the aging relative it was named for by mistake (”

As for guidelines, the Naming a Jewish Baby site addresses such questions as how to honor, whom to honor, how to spell the name and whether you can change your name ( Remember: 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 5 percent of those names are used today. Think of how many Davids and Esthers you’ve met compared to Arpachshads and Maacahs. (

There are several excellent sites where you can look up names including JewishBabyNames (, BabyNameWorld ( and the Hebrew site, Zooloo ( If you are looking for a Hebrew equivalent to a secular name, type it in at this site and see what you get: isn’t a Jewish site but it does index more than 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 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 number one since 1999. Emily reigned until 2007 followed by Emma, Isabella and most recently, Sophia (

Of course, Jewish names aren’t just for newborns. Rabbi Maurice Lamm has advice for converts who want to choose the right name. He writes that a change of name for the convert “…signals the embracing of a new philosophy, a new identification, a purposeful, mindful statement of intent for the long future. ‘A convert is as a newborn child, k’tinok she’nolad.’ A new person needs a new name. That is why the rabbis instituted that converts should choose Hebrew names for their new Jewish lives (”

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 (

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 ain’t supposed to have no “ham” in it!
Mark Mietkiewicz can be reached at

Previous post

Bark Mitzvah Boy

Next post