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Rabbi Zachary Hepner

Brief Naming Guide

"There are three crowns - the crown of Torah, the crown of the the King and the crown of the Priesthood, but the crown of a good name exceeds them all."

—A Mishnah

An important part of the Bris ceremony is the announcement of the Jewish (Hebrew, Yiddish or Ladino) name you have chosen for your child.

It is said that in ancient times one of the reasons the Jews were redeemed from Egypt was because they did not give up their Hebrew names. Ashkenazic Jews (usually of Eastern or Central European descent) traditionally name their sons after someone who has passed on, thereby honoring the memory of the departed; Sephardic Jews (usually of Western European or Middle Eastern descent) traditionally name their sons after living grandparents.

Naming ceremonies for girls include the Zeved Ha-Bat (Gift of a Daughter) ceremony which consists of a few verses from the Song of Songs, the naming prayer and Psalm 128. Alternatively, one might celebrate the birth of a girl with a Simchat Bat (Joy of a Daughter) ceremony.

There are only a few rules (very strong customs and/or superstitions) that should be followed when naming a baby:

  1. A father and son (mother and daughter) should not have the same Hebrew/Jewish name or be named after the same people.
  2. Siblings should not have the same Hebrew/Jewish name or be named after the same people, also.
  3. Others in your extended family may use the same Hebrew/Jewish name especially if you are naming after the same person. For example, first cousins may have the same Hebrew/Jewish name because you are naming after the same grandparent.
  4. It is preferable to name a baby boy after a man and a baby girl after a woman and to use the original name be it Hebrew, Yiddish or Ladino. If you are naming your son after a woman, the Jewish name needs to be transposed to a male name/equivalent (and similarly if you’re naming your daughter after a man.)
  5. It is preferable to name a baby after one person. (Today, with the lower birth rate and many more people to name after, this custom is more difficult to follow.)
  6. A baby can have one, two or sometimes, three Jewish names. More than three names is not recommended.
  7. The English name(s) and Hebrew/Jewish name(s) need not correspond. The Hebrew/Jewish name is the most significant. While an English name may be changed, once the Hebrew/Jewish name is announced at the Brit Milah or Baby Naming, it is permanent and may not be changed. Only in the case of a serious illness is a name added.
  8. For example, the baby’s English name is Jacob Matthew. The parents like the name Jacob but are naming after someone whose name was Milton. The Hebrew/Jewish name the parents chose is Matan. They don’t need to name him Ya’akov Matan just to match the names. They are only naming after one person, therefore, he will have two English names and one Hebrew name.
  9. If one is naming after someone who died at a young age, it is customary to add Alter* or Chaim (for a boy) or Alta or Chaya (for a girl).

Also, there is no “J” sound in Hebrew. Names that begin with a “J” in English will usually take a name that begins with “Y” in Hebrew. Similarly, Hebrew grammar does not permit a word to begin with an “F” sound. So if one is naming after a Francis, Frank or Fred, the choices are rather limited. In Hebrew, the closest sound-alike is Ephraim and in Yiddish, Fishel, Feitel, Feivish or Feivel could be used. There is no “W” sound in Hebrew; names that begin with a “W” in English will usually take a name that begins with “V” in Hebrew or Yiddish. For example, William, Will and Walter might be Velvel* or Volf*.

Among the most popular biblical Hebrew names for a boy are: Moshe, Chaim, Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya’akov, Reuven, Daveed, Tzvi, Yosef and Shemuel.

Among the most popular biblical Hebrew names for a girl are: Sarah, Miriam, Chanah, Chaya, Esther, Leah, Rachel, Devorah, Yehudit and Rivka.

Transposed Names (Girls to Boys): Bat-Tziyon (Ben-Tziyon), Davida (Daveed) , Elana (Elan), Malka (Melech), Meira (Meir), Shelomit (Shelomo), Shemuela (Shemuel), Yaakova (Ya’akov), Yehudit, (Yehudah), Yisraela (Yisrael), Yosefa (Yosef)

Boys’ Names

There are many popular names today which were not common several years ago and many old-fashioned names which are enjoying a renaissance. Here are a list of these names with suggestions for what Hebrew/Jewish names they might take.

Alec: Alon (oak), Alter* (old one), Alexander (protector of men)

Blake, Brandon, Brett: Baruch (blessed), Barak (lightning), Ben-Tziyon (son of Zion), Ber* (bear), Berel* (little bear), Bezalel (in the shadow of G-d), Binyamin (son of the right hand), Boaz (fleetness)

Charles, Chase, Chandler: Chaim (life), Chanoch (dedicate), Chaviv (beloved), Chizkiya (strength of G-d)

Cody: Kalman (merciful), Kidor (generation)

Dylan: Dan (judge), Doron (gift), Dov (bear)

Gregory: Gershon (Moses’ son), Gedalia (Greatness of G-d), Gavriel (Hero of G-d)

Harrison, Harry: Herschel* and Hirsh* (from Tzvi-deer), Hillel (praise), Hertzl* (from Naftali-my strife)

Jake, Jared, Justin: Yitzchak (Isaac; will laugh), Ya’akov and Yankel* (held by the heel), Yosef and Yossel* (G-d will increase), Yehoshua (Joshua; G-d’s help), Yehudah (Judah; praised)

Jordan: Yarden (descend)

Kyle: Kalman (merciful), Kolonymus (gracious)

Logan: Lev (heart), Leib* and Leibel* (from Aryeh- lion), Levi (joined)

Max: Moshe (Moses; drawn out), Mordechai and Mottel* (warrior), Meir (enlighten)

Miles: Melech (king), Micha (who is like G-d),

Owen: Oren (cedar), Oded (encourage)

Paul: Pesach (passed over), Pinechas (dark complexion), Peretz (burst forth)

Ryan, Riley, Ross: Ra’anan (fresh), Reuven (behold a son), Ron (sing), Roni (my joy), Raphael (G-d heals)

Sawyer, Spencer: Sasson (joy), Sender* (from Alexander; protector of men), Simcha (joy)

Theo: Todros (gift)

Tyler: Tuvia, Tevye and Tobia (G-d’s goodness), Tanchum (comfort)

Girls’ Names

Abby: Avigayil (father’s joy), Aviva (spring)

Alexa: Alexandra–Alexandra (defender of men)

Alison, Allison, Allysa, Allisa: Elisha (Alisha-G-d is salvation), Elianna (my G-d has answered)

Alana: Elana (Alana, tree)

Amanda: Amalia (work of the Lord)

Ann, Anne, Anna: Chana (grace)

Ariel: Ariella (lioness of G-d)

Ashley: Adina (slender), Atara (crown), Ahuva (beloved), Aviva (spring)

Beth, Bettina: Batya (daughter of G-d), Batsheva (daughter of an oath), Bat-Tziyon (daughter of Zion)

Bailey, Blake: Baila* ( Bat-sheva-Basha*, Basya*- daughter of an oath)

Brooke: Bracha (blessed), Bruriah (chosen by G-d)

Caitlin, Cameron, Carly, Carleigh, Caroline, Casey: Kayla* (grey eyed), Kineret (harp), Carmella (garden), Clara* (clean), Cochava (star)

Charlotte: Zlote* (strong)

Diana: Dina (judged)

Danielle: Daniella (G-d’s judge)

Ella: Ella (Elisheva-oath to G-d), Etta* (Ora-light)

Elissa, Elyse, Elizabeth: Elka* (Elisheva-oath to G-d)

Eliza: Aliza (joyous)

Emma: Emma, Emunah (faith)

Emily: Amalia (work of the Lord)

Faye, Faith: Faiga*, Faigel* (bird), Fruma* (pious)

Gabrielle: Gavriella (G-d is my strength)

Haley: Hadassah (myrtle), Hodel* (majesty)

Isabel: Elana (tree), Iris (name of a flower), Soibel* (sustaining)

Jade: Yocheved (glory of G-d)

Jessica: Yiska (covering)

Julie, Julia, Jillian: Yehudit (praised), Yisraela (Israel), Ya’el (mountain goat)

Kate, Kaitlin: Kady* (pure)

Kelly, Kaila, Kayla: Kayla* (gray eyed)

Kyra: Kinneret (harp)

Lauren, Louise: Leah (wearied), Levana (moon), Leeba*, Libby* (beloved), Liza (joy)

Lily: Lili (name of a flower)

Madeleine: Mindel* (Miriam)

Max: Matana (gift), Masha* (brave)

Mariah: Meira (light), Marnina (sing), Miriam (Mirka*, Mirtza*, Minna*, Mindel*-Moses’ sister)

Morgan: Margalit (pearl)

Michelle: Michal (small brook), Malkah (queen)

Natalie: Netanya (G-d has given)

Nicole, Nikki: Na’amah (pleasant), Nava (beautiful), Nurit (light)

Nina: Nina (great-granddaughter)

Olivia: Ora (light) , Orna (cedar), Ophrah (duet)

Paige: Peninah (Perel*, Pessa*, Pessia*-pearl), Perachia (flowered), Priva* (Peri-fruit)

Raina: Reina* (clean), Rina (song, joy)

Rose: Raizel*, Shoshana (rose)

Samantha, Samara: Sarah (princess), Smadar (berry), Shemuela

Skyler, Schuyler: Silka* (Sarah)

Sophie, Sophy: Sarah (princess), Tzipora (bird)

Stephanie: Sima (treasure), Simcha (joy)

Sylvia, Sylvie: Silka* (Sarah), Tzilla (protection)

Sydney: Shaindel* (Yaffa-beautiful),

Tess: Tehilla (praise), Tikva (hope), Tova (goodness), Tirtza (pleasantness)

Victoria: Vitka* (Chaya), Victoria (Sephardic), Varda (rose), Nili (Israel’s triumph shall not fail)

Zoe: Zahava (golden), Ziva (splendor), Zelda* (rare), Chaya (life)


Combination Names:

Menachem Mendel, Tzvi Hirsh, Aryeh Leib, Shraga Feivel, Shneur Zalman, Zev Volf,

Names That Can Be Used For Boys or Girls:

Ariel, Chana, Elisha, Simcha, Yonah

Girls Names That are Tough to Transpose:

Esther–Eliezer, Ephraim, Elan
Sarah–Sar, Yisrael, Sar-el

Popular Sephardic Girls’ Names:

Ada, Ayala, Esther, Gila, Hadassah, Levana, Matana, Mazal, Mazal Tov, Ophrah, Perachia, Rahel, Ruchama, Ruth, Sarah, Segulah, Temimah, Toba, Victoria

Popular Sephardic Boys’ Names:

Ovadiah, Hayyim, Eliahu, Ezra, Matzliah, Nissim, Rahamim, Sa’adya, Sasson, Tzuriel, Uzziel, Yomtov, Zechariah

"Every man has three names: one by which his parents call him; another, by which he is known to the outside world; and a third, the most important, the name which his own deeds have procured for him."

—Tanchuma Vayakkhel