Modern Naming Ceremonies: Hebrew Names

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This is by no means an attempt to encompass all Jewish naming traditions, because there are many... However... In Jewish custom, boys are traditionally circumsised and named on the 8th day after their birth in a ceremony called a Brit Milah (also known as a Bris in Yiddish). They are also given their name at this ceremony. For girls, it's a little different, since they don't get circumcised. Significant differences occur in naming ceremonies for girls depending on region, sect, etc. Lately a custom that's been growing in popularity is to name a daughter on the first Sabbath after she is born. In the Synagogue, the baby's father will stand to recite the aliyah (to be called up to recite the blessing before the Torah reading) and ask for blessings for the mother and baby, then state her name.

Outside of Israel, most Jewish children are given a Hebrew name in addition to an everyday name. This Hebrew name is used during religious ceremonies, such as the bar or bat mitzvah (coming-of-age ceremony) and the ketubah (marriage). The Hebrew name may be the Hebrew form of their everyday name (i.e., Rebecca -> Rivkah), start with the same letter, or be completely unrelated. A person's full Hebrew name takes the form of [name] ben [father's name] for boys and [name] bat [father's name] for girls.

A child's Hebrew name is often given in honor of a recently deceased relative. In past times, it was considered bad luck to name a child after a living relative, because the Angel of Death may confuse the names and take the baby rather than the older relative. Although most people don't believe in this superstition, naming a child after a departed relative is still a traditional way of keeping a loved one's memory alive. Jewish children are often given names that start with the same initial, or have a similar sound as the name of the relative they are honoring, instead of being given the same name outright. Many names are "modernized", for example, a baby named for Grandma Lotte may be given the name Lisa or Charlotte. A boy being named after Great-uncle Seymour may be called Sam or Morgan.

Do you have a story about your Hebrew name? If so, mail us at xliontamer at yahoo, with "Hebrew name" in the subject line.

Here are some of your stories:

My father, Leonard Jacob Grossman, was in his 50s when I was born (which seemed very old in 1943). He and my mother had been trying for years to have a child and he had lost contact with a daughter by an earlier marriage.

In their excitement they named me after him and his father. Thus, I was named Leonard Albert Grossman. They didn't give me a Hebrew name at the time and I never learned his. (Our congregation didn't call people to the Torah by their Hebrew names in that era.) Later, legend has it that when I began Hebrew School, my teacher looked up and said,
My God! Help!, translated into Hebrew that could be Eliezer, and so the Hebrew teacher gave me that name. (Perhaps the L in Leonard is cognate to the L in eLiezer).

My father died shortly before I became a Bar Mitzvah.

Over the years, upon learning that I was named after my father, people would exclaim, "But that is bad luck!!" I would respond, impishly, "That is probably why he died young." The look on their faces was priceless.

Later I was called to the Torah at a cousin's bar mitzvah; the gabbi asked my father's Hebrew name. Since Leonard was his name as well as mine, I said, Eliezer ben Eliezer. He refused to proceed. So to make life easy I decided his middle name would do and since then I refer to myself as Eliezer ben Jakov when the issue arises.

For more about my father, including an oral legacy, go to

My name is Victoria Heidi, Velvela Hannah in Hebrew. Victoria actually came from my Hebrew name; I was named for my great-grandfather William, whose Hebrew name was Velvel. So my parents talked to a rabbi who suggested Velvela. However, I've more recently been told that Velvela is Yiddish, not Hebrew, and a nickname for men called Velvel though it was suggested by a rabbi. Hannah just came from Heidi. Everyone knew my name before my birth; it was no big secret. Names are typically announced for girls right away, while boys wait for the bris.
I'm not Jewish, but I recently had a college professor that is. He taught a poetry class that I took. His first name was Gary and he told us that his Hebrew name was Gershon. I remember thinking it was pretty cool that I knew someone with 2 names!