Image: The Hebrew Alef-Bet, in a blue frame.
Many Jews have what we call our Hebrew name, a name by which we are called at major lifecycle events and when we are called to chant blessings for the Torah. They fall into several formats, depending on gender and preference:
Alexander Cohen might have as his Hebrew name:
- Adam ben Ya’akov v’Sarah
- Adam son of Jacob and Sarah
- Normally, Adam would have received that name at his bris, eight days after his birth.
- In some communities, he might be called Adam ben Ya’akov.
Susie Cohen might have as her Hebrew name:
- Shoshana bat Ya’akov v’ Sarah
- Shoshana daughter of Jacob and Sarah
- Susie would have recieved her name sometime shortly after her birth, at a naming ceremony or brit bat.
- In some communities, she might be called Shoshana bat Ya’akov.
Lee Cohen, a transgender or nonbinary individual, might have as their Hebrew name:
- Leor m’beit Ya’akov v’Sarah
- Leor from the house of Jacob and Sarah
- Leor may have had that name from birth OR have received it in a naming ceremony as an adult.
- For more info about nongendered Hebrew names, see this article in Kveller.
Chris Ryan, a convert to Judaism, chose a Hebrew name before his conversion. Since his birth parents were not Jewish, his Jewish credentials are from Abraham and Sarah. (More about this in What’s in a Hebrew Name?) So he might have chosen for his Hebrew name:
- Caleb ben Avraham v’Sarah
- Caleb son of Abraham and Sarah
- He would have had a naming ceremony immediately following his immersion in a mikveh. If he prefers, he might be known as Firstname m’beit Avraham v’Sarah.
Now, as sometimes happens, imagine there is an Jew named Debra Levi. Her family was not religious and she never received a Hebrew name! It’s not too late for her to have one, though. She might choose the name closest to her secular name (Devorah for Debra). She might choose a name to honor a deceased relative (her grandmother, Channah.) She might choose the name of a Jewish woman who inspires her (Ruth, for the biblical figure and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.) Maybe it is hard to choose, so she picks two! Then she visits her rabbi and asks to arrange a naming ceremony.
- Channah Rut bat David v’Sarah
- Channah Ruth daughter of David and Sarah
Once the Jew has their Hebrew name, it will be used to call them to the Torah, to address them at their wedding, and to pray for them at their funeral. When they are sick, some will pray for them by their Hebrew name with the matronymic (mother’s name.) Finally, it will appear on their matzevah, their grave marker.
What’s your Hebrew name? How did you get it? If you chose it, why did you choose that name?
9 thoughts on “Hebrew Name Choices”
I choose “Imri” – to speak,speaking; exalting
I liked seeing my name (Debra) in the example! My mother said that I was given a Hebrew name but it may actually be Yiddish. It sounds close to “Debra.”
I was given my Hebrew name by one of my Hebrew school teachers before my Bat Mitzvah. It’s Naomi bat Shlomo v’ Yacova.
I chose Akiva Mikhail. Akiva because he is said to have converted at 40 (I am 40). Also it is a variation of Yakov who became Yisrael. Mikhail is to honor my birth parents who gave me the middle name Michael.
Nice! Akiva is a great role model!
Great post and fun question! I work in a Jewish setting and polled Hebrew-speaking people for ideas for a name, and I did a ton of reading. I looked for A names, names around my birthday, etc. Ayelet popped up in my reading, and it stayed in the back of my mind, and when it was mentioned by a coworker, it felt like the one. So I am Ayelet bat Avraham v’Sarah.
When I converted in my mid 20s, I made two lists of names and asked my birth mother and my adoptive mother to pick one, so my Hebrew name is Nivchara Yahel. Neither of my mothers was/is Jewish, but they were both so supportive of my conversion, and it was really nice to have them involved like that.
What a lovely practice! The next time I have a student who is feeling stuck about choosing a name, I will tell them your story.