What's in a Name?
"Call me by my Hebrew name..."
Names play an important role in our personal identity. Your name connects you to your family and to your life. Names have a significant role in the Jewish religion. For this reason, Jews who live outside of Israel are usually given two sets of names: a secular name and a religious name. The secular name is used in all non-religious aspects of life and reflects the culture and language of the person. The religious name is a Hebrew name by which he or she is known to G-d. This name is very precious and should only be used in life cycle events and in prayer.
A person’s Hebrew name is usually given at the Brit Milah (circumcision) for a boy or the Simchat Bat (naming ceremony) for a girl – so usually within the first week of life. A Hebrew name often takes inspiration from a deceased relative, a Biblical character, nature or a particular personality trait. One’s Hebrew name plays an important role in their relationship with G-d so it is important to choose carefully.
While a person generally receives a Hebrew name early in life, it can actually be given at any age. A Hebrew name can be adopted when someone chooses to practice a Jewish lifestyle. This tradition was created by G-d in Genesis. In Genesis 17 G-d gave Abraham and Sarah their names:
No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham… As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. (Genesis 17:5,15)
Deciding to take a Hebrew name can be a like a rebirth. If you choose to take a Hebrew name, search your soul and discover the name that best reflects who you are as a person. It is not something to be taking lightly as you will be asking G-d to know you by this name.
As we greet the New Year, those who resolve to follow more of a Jewish lifestyle in the coming year could consider adopting a Hebrew name as a step in that direction.