A Beginner’s Guide to Hebrew Names

My drivers licence

My drivers licence (Photo credit: davidciani)

This week we begin reading Shemot, which is the Hebrew name for the Book of Exodus.  It’s called shemot ["names"] because the first line of the book is “these are the NAMES.”


Hebrew names are an interesting subject. One’s Hebrew name is like a Jewish Driver’s License. It is what we use to call a person to read from the Torah, to witness a ketubah, and at the end, to bury them as a Jew. Having a Hebrew name says, “I am a Jew, and here are my credentials.”


Most born Jews are given their names about a week after birth, in a naming ceremony. The parents choose a Hebrew name that may or may not match the “regular” name: a kid named Paul might be named Sha-ool (Saul, Hebrew for Paul), or he might be named Shlomo, because that was his grandfather’s Hebrew name.


A new convert to Judaism chooses a Hebrew name, too. It might be a figure from the Bible she particularly wants to emulate (I chose Ruth) or a family name (Linda chose Chava which is Hebrew for Eva, her deceased mother’s name.)


In either case, what follows after the given name are the names through whose merit [z'chut] one is a member of the Jewish People. For born Jews, that’s their parents. For our mythical kid Paul, his name might come out:
Shaul ben Eliezer v’ Sarah  [Paul, son of Henry and Sarah]  He is a Jew by the merit of his parents, Henry and Sarah.

For a convert, the z’chut [merit] comes through the first converts to Judaism, Abraham and Sarah:


Root bat Avraham v’Sarah [Ruth, daughter of Abraham and Sarah] Ruth is a Jew by the merit of the  first patriarch and matriarch.  Abraham and Sarah are not her parents, and this is not a “diss” to her biological parents.  This is, in fact, her Jewish credential.


Occasionally, I have a student who never received a Hebrew name, even though they were born to Jewish parents. It is never too late to acquire a Hebrew name.  Just contact your rabbi, and say, I want to have a Hebrew name! Like an adult convert, you’ll get to choose your own: a family name, or a name you choose as an inspiration.


Whatever your Hebrew name, may it be a shem tov, a good name, a name of honor within your community!


3 Responses to A Beginner’s Guide to Hebrew Names

  1. beauty trend says:

    …A Friend recommended your blog…

    [...]The entire glance of your web site is wonderful, let well as the content![...]…

    Like this

  2. I chose Selah Ysrael Ben Ami. Selah reminds me to pause and reflect, Ysrael describes my relationship with HaShem and my self, I chose Ben Ami because I am the son of my people and not just one set of parents.

    Like this

    • rabbiadar says:

      Dale, I am curious about your name and tradition: did you choose your name as part of a conversion process, or as a born Jew? If you did it as part of a conversion process, how did your rabbi respond to your choice?

      Looking forward to continued discussion!

      Like this

Comments or Questions? Speak up!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

חי-er ed

Soul Mentorship is Finding, Asking, Directing

Cooking with a Wallflower

Cooking. Baking. Crafting. Writing.


Great Content from around the web ......


Words of truth are the bricks and mortar of reality.

From guestwriters

A tiny WordPress.com site based in Belgium

Living ~400lbs

... and believe me I am still alive


... It can only get better...

Teela Hart

Surviving Domestic Violence

Unload and Unwind

A place to talk about the past, present and thoughts of the future


Website for B'Chavana, a Jewish Community with Intention

Jewish Gems - Anita Silvert

Judaism is a many-faceted thing

Rabbi Neal's Weekly Commentary

Parshat Hashavua from the Heart of the Hudson Valley

Convert Confidential

A Twenty-Something Converts to Judaism

Off the REKord

Ramblings and Reflections of a Reform Rabbi

Sheri de Grom

From the literary and legislative trenches.

Thy Critic Man

I am your superhero. I fight against awful television, terrible movies & horrendous videogames

Craig Lewis - The Lincoln Rabbi

Spirituality Through Rationality



Silicon Hutong

China and the World of Business • China Business and the World

Stuart Orme

Historian, Folklorist, Writer, Re-enactor, Museum Professional. Follow me on Twitter: @stuartorme


Advice. Staircase Wit. Faux Pas. Movies.

SHEROES of History

Telling the stories of historical heroines

A Palatable Pastime

Let's have fun with food!

asian's cup of moonlight

Nothing beats a kid at heart. Let's travel the universe together. You and me: Together.

Attenti al Lupo


Grover Anderson

Singer/Songwriter • Oakland, CA


An insight to a heart mind and soul.

Rabbi Audrey Korotkin

AltoonaRav: Reflections from a rural rabbi

Talkin' Reckless

Thoughts on feminism, health, and education


adventures in cooking


“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

That Devil History

Historian Jarret Ruminski muses on how the past continues to shape contemporary politics, culture, and society in the United States.


Any major dude with half a mind surely will tell you my friend...

My Jewish Yearning

A great WordPress.com site

My Siyach

שיח Siyach: Hebrew, meaning: to put forth, meditate, muse, commune, speak, complain, ponder, sing

Amsterdam Centraaal

(with triple A)

Eat Bark Hike

Musings on Cooking and Hiking with Pepper

Susan LaDue Writes

The Kristen Maroney Mysteries


این نیز بگذرد‎


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,328 other followers

%d bloggers like this: