Why do Jews have a Hebrew name aside from their "real" name?
Such an easy question, such a complex idea!
Let's all agree that we all need to be called something, we all have a name.
When my son says to me, “that boy with long hair,” I always answer back, “that kid’s mom didn’t name him the boy with the long hair…”
We all have a name.
So, where do they come from? And why do Jews have to have two names?
Well, let's start with identity-- you need to be called something. It would be weird if you were named, "boy with the long hair." Let's face it. Ok, that's off the table.
Our identity is built around our name that we are given at birth, but if you opt to change it later in life, so be it.
But why do Jews have two names?
Jewish people living in non-Jewish lands need a Hebrew name.
It's tradition. Not written anywhere in stone--not by Moses or anyone else. Not in the Torah or bible, nope.
In Jewish tradition, the Book Genesis G-d named the first man, Adam, and the first woman Eve. Or, in hebrew-- Adam comes from earth, Adama, and Chava (Eve) from the Hebrew word Chayiim, Life.
So, even though it isn't written into law that Jews must have a Hebrew name, it is a connection to tradition, to a language and a religion that has survived two millennia of exile.
Many Jews still have a Hebrew name given to them at birth, even if they use an English name in daily life. That Hebrew name connects a Jewish person to some key moment in life-- a time, holiday, memory, prayer and so on.
But most of all, it connects a person to his/her family and to generations of Jews.
So, if you know that your great-grandmother was named Leah, chances are that one or more of her off-spring will also be Leah.
It is a way of honoring and respecting our heritage.
However, and there is always a however, some parents have gone the route, like I did, and given names that work for both secular and Jewish worlds-- like Adam or Sarah.
Rachel, David, Jacob, Joseph or Hannah.
So, you might be referred to as Ryan in America but in Hebrew you have the name Mendel Shmuel and an English middle of Henry. Once, again, there is no pattern, no set rules.
So, when asked, "what is my Hebrew name?"
There really is NO answer.
Simply because there are no rules.
Let's look at it a step further, shall we?
Say you are converting to Judaism, you might then relate to the heroine Ruth, and how she converted, and thus, call yourself in Hebrew, Ruth. As a side note, you're never too old to receive a name in Hebrew if you don't have one already.
That's a different topic, but just know you never, ever age-out-of tradition!
Did you know that there are a ton of names in the Hebrew Bible, yet fewer than 5 percent of those are in current use?
Many books have been written with popular Hebrew names and their meanings, you can find a great list on Kveller.com.
So, if you are choosing a Hebrew name, think of your character and to whom you relate best in the Bible.
Or, if you have/had a close friend or relative that had a Hebrew name, you can honor them by carrying on their namesake.
And, when all else fails....write your name in Hebrew letters.
And if you ever need help with the Hebrew, and would like for us to write your name in Hebrew for you, email us with the subject line: "Write my name in Hebrew" and we'll get right back to you.
You know, since we are speaking of tradition and names and creating memories, a wonderful gift, tying in tradition and celebration, is gifting a piece of jewelry with one’s Hebrew name on it.
At Alef Bet we offer Hebrew letter name necklaces. However, the most popular choice now is just to wear your initial. We're seeing the same trend in English, or Latin letters. Foregoing the entire name and going for the short version.
It's hip, minimal, trendy and a piece of jewelry that you can wear and cherish for years and years.
See the collection of Hebrew jewelry here.
See it for yourself here.
To recap: Hebrew names maintain tradition and keeps the memories of our Jewish ancestors alive. The entire history of the Jewish people is recreated and continued with a simple thing…. a name.
And, if you ever need help spelling your name in Hebrew, call us 818 882 9030 or email us and we'll happily help you!