How the Rabbi Got Her Name


“What about a Hebrew name?”

The question from an Intro student seemed routine.

“You choose your name,” I explained, ” but it is the custom to use ‘bar or bat Abraham v’Sarah’ for the second part of a convert’s name.” I focussed on the usual question (“Why Abraham and Sarah?”) but before I could trot down that line of thought, he pulled me up short.

“No, I mean, how do you pick the name?”

A n old memory stirred.

“Well, let me tell you how NOT to choose a name,” I said. “I had read in a book somewhere that ‘All female converts to Judaism take the name Ruth.’ So when my rabbi asked if I had chosen a name, I figured I’d give the right answer and said ‘Ruth.’  He said, ‘Great choice!’ and it was done. It was only later that I found out I had had a choice. But I was so intent on impressing him that I missed my opportunity to think about it with his guidance.

“Later, after thinking on it for a while, I decided that Ruth was actually the right name for me. The Biblical Ruth is my role model. But after that, I learned that with Judaism, questions and discussion were more valuable than ‘right answers’ and showing off.

“New Jews can choose their own Jewish name. It might be a name from a role model, or a quality you want to nurture in yourself. It might be an homage to a dead relative. It is a highly individual decision.”

He nodded, and the class flowed on. My younger self, the one who was afraid to look ignorant, who was afraid to ask questions, gradually faded back into memory.

“The shy will not learn,” said Hillel, in the 1st century BCE.

Yes, I thought, but they can learn not to be shy.

Published by


Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

11 thoughts on “How the Rabbi Got Her Name”

  1. I flipped through the baby-name books multiple times. I hated all the names that began with P, so there went that idea. I finally settled on Ashira, meaning “I will sing,” because I’m a musician.

    I toyed with the idea of asking whether I could be bat [husband’s name] and [daughter’s name], since they were the ones who brought me to Judaism, but in the end I decided that would be just too weird for a lot of people and decided to stick with bat Avraham v’Sarah.

  2. When I converted to Orthodox at the Conservative shul I was attending (if the rabbi thought we’d ever visit Israel, he had an Orthodox rabbi sign our paperwork), the Conservative rabbi steered me away from my first choice, which was the Hebrew word for ‘wind.’ I was feeling very unsettled at that time, like I was blown by the wind to wherever G-d needed me to be.

    He instead asked what I thought of ‘Shira,’ which I understand is Hebrew for “song.” It made sense to me in many ways: I can sing; a person’s life is often referred to as their song, and the depth of meaning of Shira was something I discovered many years after my conversion. The rabbi really understood me at that point, better than I knew myself. I will always be grateful to him for his suggestion, because I feel the name Shira fits me perfectly — especially since I’m much more settled than I was at 25 years old.

  3. I have a question Rabbi Ruth. I was born Reform, which recognizes a father’s bloodline when it comes to children. Would my full Hebrew name reflect that at all? As in, Shira bat Harold v’Sarah? Or, since I converted to (technically) Orthodoxy, would it be Shira bat Avraham v’Sarah? Not that the question keeps me up at night, I was merely curious so that I give the correct answer if asked. 🙂

    I always *love* your blog. It is a HUGE blessing in my life to read your words. Thank you for your time, commitment and kindness.

    1. Moving from one branch of Judaism to another usually does not involve conversion. However if your mother were not Jewish an Orthodox congregation would require conversion. I suggest you consult your rabbi on this matter.

    1. I misled you with the title: most rabbis do use their given names. In my car, I am a convert to Judaism. Years after my conversion I chose to go to court to change my name from Original Oldname to Ruth Adar. That was a very unusual move on my part. Perhaps someday I will explore it in a blog post, but most likely not.

      1. Got it. I subscribe to the theory that for everything there is a reason and we don’t have to blog anything we don’t want too – that’s the beauty of blogging.
        I have several of your blogs to go back and read. I see you’ve done a lot of educating over the past several weeks while I’ve been absent and while I may not comment on each one, I will still learn. You can trust, if I leave a star that I like something you’ve written, I’ve been there and I’ve read it. I do much of my reading on the i-Pad these days sitting by Tom.

Leave a Reply