Jewish name

Jewish name

:" For the article on Hebrew given names, see Hebrew name.The Jewish name has historically varied, encompassing throughout the centuries several different traditions. This article looks at the onomastics practices of the Jewish People, that is, the history of the origin and forms of proper names.

First name

Early Biblical Era

The name conferred upon a person in early Biblical times was generally connected with some circumstance of that person's birth: several of Jacob's sons are recorded as having received their names in this manner (Genesis 30). Generally, it was the mother who chose the name, as in the account of Jacob's sons, but there were occasions on which the father chose the child's name, for instance in Genesis 16:15, 17:19, and 21:2. Occasionally other persons than the parents were the name-givers, as in the cases of Moses (Exodus 2:10) and Solomon (II Samuel 12:25).

In early Biblical times it appears to have been the custom to confer the name immediately upon birth, as among modern Arabs, but in later periods a name was given to the boy at circumcision (compare Luke 1:59 and 2:21). Before the Babylonian exile it was not common practice to name children after their relatives, even in the royal family; none of the twenty-one kings of Judah was named after a predecessor, or after David, the founder of the dynasty. On the other hand, a son of Jonathan and of King Saul were each named Meribaal (II Samuel 21:7 and following.) Instead of repeating the same name as an ancestor, however, it was customary to make use of one of the elements of the family name; thus Ahitub has two sons, Ahijah and Ahimelech. Three of Saul's family members have the element "ba'al" (in the altered form "bosheth") in their names. As a consequence of this avoidance of repetition, a single name was as a rule sufficient to identify a person. It is only in the later stages of Hebrew tradition that it was found necessary to give the name of the father in order to identify the son, as, for instance, in the case of Jaazaniah ben Shaphan (Ezekiel 8:11).


It is probable that, as among other ancient societies, a certain magical importance was attributed to the name. [Frazer, "Golden Bough", 2d ed., i. 404 et seq.] [E. Clodd, "Tom Tit Tot", London, 1899] A very large majority of the 2,800 personal names (referring to about 15,000 persons) contained in the Old Testament convey a special meaning, apart from their personal application. The meanings of the remainder have been obscured either through textual corruption or insufficient current understanding of comparative philology. In addition, a considerable number of these names are probably eponyms. There is little doubt that this applies to the names of the Israelite clans, each of which was assumed to be descended from the descendants of Jacob, given in Numbers 26.

Names may be derived from the order of birth, as in the cases of Akkub and Jacob, whose names probably mean "posthumous." Jephthah implies "first-born", as does Becher, while names like Manasseh, Nahum, and Nehemiah refer probably to children who have come to take the place of others that have died in childhood. The idea of relationship is expressed in Ahab, probably originally Ahiab (Jeremiah 29:21).

Personal peculiarities may give rise to a name, as Laban ("white", or "blond"), Gideon ("maimed"), or Harim ("with pierced nose"). Mental qualities may be referred to, as in the names Job ("assailant") and Barak ("lightning"). Owing to the want of specialization in Jewish social life there are no trade-names in the Bible corresponding to the Smith and Müller of England and Germany; but names taken from objects are found, especially among females. The name Rebekah ("Rivka") seems to be derived from a sheep-rope, Peninnah from coral, and Keren-happuch from a box of face-paint. Abstract names seem to be applied especially to women, as Manoah ("rest") and Michal ("power").

Jacobs gives eighty-four names (applied to 120 different persons) derived from animals and plants. ["Studies in Biblical Archeology", pp. 94–100] Leah is generally known as a word for cow and Rachel for ewe (appropriate since both are considered matriarchs). Oreb ("raven") and Ze'ev ("wolf") were princes of the Midianites (although Ze'ev was also an appellation of Benjamin); and Caleb ("the dog") was the founder of the chief Judean tribe. Achbor ("mouse") and Shaphan ("coney") also occur. Jonah is the equivalent of "dove", Zipporah of "bird", and Deborah of "bee." Esther's Jewish name, Hadassah, means "myrtle." An attempt has been made by Robertson Smith and others to find in these and other names traces of totemism among the ancient Hebrews.

Other Jewish names taken from those of animals include Ari (lion) [Ariel means "God is my lion"] , Dov (bear), and Tzvi or Zvi (deer).

Compound names

A distinctive characteristic of Bible onomastics is the frequency of composite names, which form at times even complete sentences, as in the case of Isaiah's son Shear-jashub ("the remnant shall return"). Hephzibah means "my pleasure is in her." Sometimes these composites have a preposition as their first element, as Bishlam (= "with peace"; Ezra 4:7) and Lemuel ("belonging to God"; Proverbs 31:4); but in the majority of cases these composite names are theophorous, referring to, or actually mentioning, the Deity, either by the name of YHWH or by the name of El. The specific name of the Jewish God appears at the beginning as "Jo-" and at the end as "-iah"; thus, "Jonathan" is a doublet of "Elnathan", and "Joezer" ("YHWH is help") is the same as "Joazar" ("YHWH has helped"). A whole theology may be deduced from the large number of Biblical names referring to acts, actions, and attributes of the deity; thus: God "gives" (Elnathan, Jonathan); "increases the family" (Eliasaph); "is gracious" (Elhanan, Hananeel); "has mercy" (Jerahmeel); "blesses" (Barachel, Berechiah); "loves" (Jedidiah, Eldad); "helps" (Eleazar, Azareel, Azariah); "benefits" (Gamaliel); "holds fast" (Jehoahaz); "is strong" (Uzziel, Azaziah); "delivers" (Elpalet, Eliphalet); "comforts" (Nehemiah); "heals" (Rephael); "conceals" (Elzaphan, Zephaniah); "establishes" (Eliakim); "knows" (Eliada); "remembers" (Zechariah); "sees" (Hazael, Jahaziel); "hears" (Elishama); "answers" (Anaiah); "speaks" (Amariah); "is praised" (Jehaleel); "is asked" (Shealtiel); "comes" (Eliathah); "lives" (Jehiel); "shoots" (Jeremiah); "thunders" (Raamiah; Nehemiah 7:7); "gladdens" (Jahdiel, Jehdeiah); "judges" (Elishaphat, Jehoshaphat, Shephatiah); "is just" (Jehozadak); "is king" (Elimelech, Malchiel); "is lord" (Bealiah); "is great" (Gedaliah); "is perfect" (Jotham); "is high" (Jehoram); "is glorious" (Jochebed); "is incomparable" (Michael, literally "who is like God?")

Besides these distinct names of God other divine names are used, as "Adoni" in Adoniram, and "Melech" in Nathan-melech and Ebed-melech, and Baal in Esh-baal (changed for special reasons to Ishbosheth). In some cases names of relationship seem to be used as applied to the Deity (compare Abiel, Abijah, and Abimelech, signifying in each case the fatherhood of God), and in this way Abinadab would correspond to Jehonadab and Abiezer to Eliezer. The same applies to the elements "aḥ-" ("brother") and "amm-" ("uncle"). As, however, some of these words are applied to families, not individuals, the whole must be taken as a sentence: Ahibud means "my father is glorious" (referring to God). On the same principle it must be assumed that some verbal names are theophorous, and refer to the action of the Deity, Nathan being the abbreviation of Elnathan ("God gives"), Shaphat of Jehoshaphat ("God judges"). Thus Ahaz appears in a form corresponding to Jehoahaz in an inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III. Many of the theophorous endings are contracted into "-a", "-i", or "-ai", as in Shebna, Hosa, Talti, and Shemai. A few names are adjectival, and may contain references to the Deity: Baruch ("blessed"), David ("beloved"), Amos ("strong"). Some names have grammatical endings which it is difficult to interpret, as "-oth" and "-ith" in Shelomoth and Shelomith; the final "-i" in Omri and Barzilai probably refers to a tribal origin. Many names ending in on are animal-names, as Ephron ("small deer"), Nahshon ("small serpent"); compare Samson ("small sun").

Post-Exilic names

After the Exile to Babylon there appeared a tendency toward the use of foreign names, the literal significance of which was disregarded, and this tendency became more and more prominent as time went on. Biblical names ending in "-a" (as in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah) are Aramaic. Shamsherai (I Chronicles 8:26), while Mordekhai is derived from "pure myrrh"] ), as are Belteshazzar (Daniel 10:1), Shenazar (I Chronicles 3:18), and Sheshbazzar (Ezra 1:8) from other deities. There is in this period a tendency also toward descriptive and adjectival names with the definite article prefixed, which easily gave rise to such surnames as Hakkaz, Hakkatan, and Hallosheth (Ezra 2:61; 8:12; Nehemiah 3:12; compare the form "ha-Kohelet" (Ecclesiastes 12:8, in the Hebrew). In the Hellenistic period Greek names became quite usual among the Jews, especially those of Alexander, Jason, and Antigonus. Even the name of a god like Apollo occurs (Acts 18:24). Other names are Apollonius, Hyrcanus, Lysimachus, Demetrius, Dosa, Nicanor, Pappus, Patroclus, Philo, Sosa, Symmachus, Tryphon, Zeno. The same occurs among women, as Alexandra and Priscilla. Roman names also occur, as Antonius, Apella, Drusus, Justinus, Justus, Marcus, Rufus, Tiberius, and Titus. It was during this period that the practice arose of giving a son the name of his grandfather, as was done in the high-priestly family, the members of which were named alternately Onias and Simon from 332 to 165 BCE. Similarly, a little later, in the family of the Hillelites, the names Gamaliel and Judah succeed each other with only an occasional occurrence of Simon and Hillel. Toward the end of the period, owing to the intermixture of foreign languages, the use of double names for the same person began to be adopted, as in the instances of Simon Peter, John Mark, Thomas Didymus, Herodes Agrippa, and Salome Alexandra.

Talmudic period

Among the names in the Talmud there is a considerable proportion of Greek ones. A large number also are Aramaic, ending in "-a" or "-ai": Abba, Huna, and Papa are instances of the former. Even Bible names were transformed in this direction——Ḥanina instead of Hananiah, Abuya instead of Abijah; while others were shortened, as Lazar (for Eleazar). Many Biblical names received renewed popularity owing to the distinction of their bearers, as those of Gamaliel, Hillel, and Ulla. The tendency toward double names existed here, as Sarah Miriam, Johanan Joseph, [Giṭ. 34b] and Mahaliel Judah. [Yoma 52b] Converts to Judaism, like Aquila,dn Monabaz, and Helena, retained their pagan names (as was the custom also in the early Christian Church). There was some objection to foreign names among the Jews of this period, [Num. R.] yet legend declares that the high priest Simon promised Alexander the Great that all the children of priestly families born in the year following his visit to Jerusalem would be named Alexander, after him. [Yosippon, folio 87]

In the adoption of double names during this early period an attempt was made to translate the Hebrew terms into corresponding Greek, as "Ariston" for "Tobi", "Boethus" for "Ezra", "Justus" for "Zadok", "Philo" for "Jedidah", "Theodorus" for "Nethaneel", and "Zosimus" for "Ḥayyim".

It was somewhat rare for the same name to be used by both sexes. In Biblical times this occurs with regard to the names "Abigail", "Abijah", "Athaliah", "Chushan", "Ephah", "Micha", "Nahash", "Shelomith", "Zibiah"; in Talmudic times, with regard to "Ibu", "Johanan", "Nehorai", "Pasi", "Shalom"; the only later instances that may be cited are "Jeroham", "Mazal-Ṭob", "Neḥamah", "Menuḥah", "Simḥah", "Tamar", "Bongodas", and "Bien-li-Viengue". To wear a man's name seemed as objectionable as wearing men's clothes.

It was already noticed in Talmudic times that the use of family names had died out. [Giṭ. 88a] The name of Rabbi Meïr was said to be derived from an experience at school which was regarded as being of good omen. ['Er. 13b] It is recommended not to name a child after enemies of the Jews, like Sisera and Pharaoh, but to use the names of the Patriarchs (i.e. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. [Yoma 36b]

Post-Talmudic period

As the Jews spread throughout the lands bordering the Mediterranean they drew upon other languages for their personal names while still retaining Biblical ones, and they were especially prone to adopt names ending in "-el". These new names became exceptionally popular in Italy. To this source must be traced the new name "Ḥushiel", composed on the same plan as the Biblical ones ending in "-el". The kings of the Chazars, so far as their names are known, wavered between pure Biblical names, like Obadiah, and local names, like "Bulan". The Karaites in the same neighborhood adopted Tatar names, one of them being known as Toktamish; but elsewhere Karaite names are mostly Arabic and Persian.

The custom of calling one of the sons, generally the eldest, after the paternal (sometimes the maternal) grandfather, of which only nine instances are known during the Talmudic period, became more popular, especially in European states. Maimonides' grandfather was "Joseph ben Isaac ben Joseph ben Obadiah ben Solomon ben Obadiah", for instance, and certain families seem to have similarly confined themselves to a few chosen names. Thus, in the Kalonymus family there occurs "Meshullam b. Moses b. Ithiel b. Moses b. Kalonymus b. Meshullam b. Kalonymus b. Moses b. Kalonymus b. Jekuthiel b. Moses b. Meshullam b. Ithiel b. Meshullam"—only five names among fourteen persons throughout three centuries. As a consequence certain names became characteristic of certain districts: "Japheth" and "Caleb" in Greece, and hence among the Karaites; "Kalonymus" in south Italy; "Sheshet" and "Joab" in Rome; "Sinai" and "Pesaḥ" in Germany. Some of the older names were revived—"Meïr", for example, of which only two previous instances had been known, the tanna Meïr and the Meïr mentioned by Josephus. [ BJvi. 5, § 1] "Samson" was never used by Jews before the eleventh century. But the most striking tendency of the post-Talmudic period is the general choice of local names by the Jews for their civic relations. This led to the adoption of two names, one for civic purposes, known as the "kinnuy" (probably from the Arabic "kunyah"), the other ("shem ha-ḳodesh") for use in the synagogue and in all Hebrew documents. The latter, the "sacred" name, was as far as possible associated with the former, and was often a translation of a civic one, e.g., "Asael" for "Diofatto", "Manoah" for "Tranquillo", "Ḥayyim" for "Vita"; at times the civic name was merely a contraction of the sacred one, e.g., "Leser" for "Eliezer", "Sender" for "Alexander". In other cases mere similarity in sound was sufficient to determine the sacred name, as "Mann" for "Menahem", "Kalman" for "Kalonymus", and the like. Especially noteworthy was the use made of Jacob's blessing to transfer a personal name from the civic to the sacred sphere. Judah being compared to a lion's whelp in Jacob's blessing, "Judah" became "Leo", or "Löwe", in lay relationship, and "Ephraim" became "Fischlin". Later on these name-equations became so usual that they formed doublets, which were almost invariably found together, as "Dob Bär", "Naphtali Hirsch", "Judah" or "Aryeh Löb", and these again gave currency to similar correlative names, as "Uri Phoebus".

Titular abbreviations

It was during the Middle Ages that the somewhat curious custom arose of combining the abbreviation of a title with the initials of a name to form a single personal name. This almost invariably implies frequency of mention, and, therefore, celebrity. The best-known examples are those of RaSHI and RaMBaM, who are hardly ever quoted in rabbinical texts except by these names; but there exists a large number of similar contractions. [For a fuller list see Händler's list of abbreviations in Dalman's "Talmudisches Wörterbuch."]

A somewhat similar use of a title is the combination with "Messer", as in the Italian "Messer Leon", while in Provence the honorary prefixes "en-", for men, and "na-", for women, are combined with the name to form "Engusek" (En-Joseph), "Nabona", etc.

Apart from these tendencies, the general trend of nomenclature among Jews in the Middle Ages was to adopt that of the countries in which they lived, the given names being often identical with those of the surrounding peoples, and other means of identification being derived mainly from localities or offices. Certain peculiarities of various countries may be taken separately.


Among the Mizrahim (Arabic-speaking Jews living in the Middle-East) it was quite common to substitute their Hebrew names with relevant Arabic ones, whenever they bore a religious note and were deemed sacred to both Jews and Moslems, so Abraham turned into Ibrahim, Aharon into Haroun, David into Daoud, Moshe into Moussa, and Shlomo into Soliman and Salman.

The indication of a family's elevated religious status, which also gained its members the reverence of their non-Jewish neighbors, was expressed in Arabic through their name. One has to note that such names were often given by the surrounding non-Jewish communities, who confused the appropriate religious terms of the Halakhah. An example of this is the name Nader, which is the Arabic translation of Nazir: the Hebrew root word neizer (pronounced nay-zeer) means delineation or designation, and refers to the status of nezirut in which a person makes a vow to isolate himself from certain matters, such as intoxicating beverages, and other material luxuries (the absence of which would deaden his cravings for physical pleasures, as well as enhance his spiritual sensitivity and further his quest to attain spiritual heightenings), as well as things that are considered being tamea (spiritually unclean, such as corpses). Yet in the Arabic environment a family of Cohanim (descendents of Aaron and priests of the Beit haMiqdash), would often be described as such through the name Nazir, or Nader. The obvious reason behind the wrong usage of the term Nazir and its attribution to Cohanim, is the fact that the Mizrahi Cohanim had always strictly adhered to the relevant Halachic Laws which entail that they avoid to come into contact with corpses, lest they lose their status of purity, and which is similar to the rules that govern the status of nazarites, as well as their perception amongst their surrounding Arab neighbors, especially the Coptic Christians, as being consecrated (vowed) to the religious service of the Beit haMiqdash.

Personal peculiarities also gave rise to a Jew's name in the Arab world, as Abyad referred to fair skin, Afia possessor of strength, health or well being, Tawil to a tall person.

It was also quite usual that Hebrew names were translated into their corresponding meaning in the Arabic language, such as Adin into Latif, or Loutfi, Eleazar into Mansour, Gershom into Ghareeb, Mazliach into Maimun, Sameah into Said, and Tovia into Hassan, or Hassoun.

Common segments of Mizrahi society adopted local Arabic names, such as Abdallah, Abdela, Abdo and Aboudi (all meaning servant of the Lord), Farag (relief), Massoud (fortunate), Mourad (aspired to), Nessim (fresh breeze), Sabah (morning), Sahl (ease), Salama, Salem and Selim (all meaning unharmed), Zaki (well-smelling), because of their beautiful meanings, or the good fortune they seemed to evoke.

As had been the case within the Ashkenaz (European Jewish) cultural environment, Mizrahim bore names that related to their trades and occupations, such as Albaz (also Elbaz, Elvas meaning falconer), Aboutboul (Abitbol, Botbol all meaning drummer, drum maker, or seller), Hayek and Khayat (which both mean tailor), Hakim (physician, or sage), Naggar (carpenter), Sabbagh (dyer of cloth), Sabban (soap maker), Sannoua (labourer), Sarrouf or "assaraf" (money changer).

Being influenced by the surrounding Arab culture, which is prone to superstition, Mizrahim sought to avert the ein ha raa (evil eye) and envy by never calling the dearest of their children (especially, the firstborn son) by the real name. In their quest to protect a child, parents would even revert to such drastic measures as giving it a very unattractive nickname, such as Garboua (the one who is clad in rags), which has later become a family name.

Contrary to Ashkenazim, the Mizrahim applied the rulings of Talmud Shabbat 134, which provides that a child be called after a living relative. This led to the creation of another Mizrahi particularity, where a child could be named Sarah bat Sarah, or Abraham ben Abraham, which as per Ashkenazi customs, would only have been applied to a ger (gerim being convertites to Judaism, and thus, deemed having become bnai brith, that is to say children of the Covenant, holding the status of children of the Patriarch Abraham and the Matriarch Sarah).

Name giving also served as a social welfare tool, whereby poor parents sought to secure the support of a benefactor for their child, by naming him after a wealthy relative or employer, who would show his acceptance to look after the welfare of the child by presenting it with a first set of clothing, and later on support him with marriage expenses and the like.

The Mizrahim also reverted to this measure, as a means to strengthening the family ties between a married woman and her blood relatives, whereby a newly born child would be named after the elder of the mother's family, or one of its notables, and thus, retain his material benevolence, as well as underline the husband's expressed will to align himself to his spouse's family and gain their goodwill, or at least not to estrange his wife from her roots.

A peculiarity of the Arabic onomatology is the kunyah, the by-name given to a father after the birth of his son, by which he is named after the latter (Abou, Abo, or Abu followed by the name of his son). It may be added here that Abu al-Walid is a kunyah or by-name for Jonah. Abu also forms family names, as in the case of Abudarham, or Aboab. Here it has to be noted, that the word Abou was sometimes used in the sense of "owner", especially when it was followed by an object that was of importance to the manner in which the surrounding community perceived the person in question. The most prominent example for this is Abou Hassira (owner of a straw mat), a descendant of a long line of kabbalists and pietists from Morocco (born 1807 in Morocco, died 1880 in Egypt, buried in the village of Demitiouh, near Damanhour, in the Governorate of Beheira), whose real name Yaccov Ben Massoud has almost been forgotten, as he has become identified as Rabbi Abou Hassira since his pilgrimage from his homeland to Jerusalem, during which the boat he was on sank, yet he was miraculously saved because he hang on to his straw mat (hassira), which had been his only possession. For this the Egyptian population venerated him since that day on as a holy man and miracle worker, whose life had been protected by the Lord through a frail mat.

Akin to this is the use of the Arabic Ibn which is relaten to Hebraic "ben" like in "benjamin" or ben yamin, (meaning son of, also spelled Aben, Aven, Avin) to form a family name amongst Mizrahim who lived in the Eastern part of the Arab world. Among the best known of this formation are Ibn Aknin, Ibn Danan (hence Abendana), Ibn Latif, Ibn Migas, Ibn Verga. Those Mizrahim who lived in the Maghrebine countries (especially Morocco) chose the use of the Berber word O (son of), which created the names O'Hanna, (son of Hanna, also spelled Bohana, Abuhana, Abuhenna), O'Hayon (son of Life), O'Knine (son of Yacob, also spelled Waknin, Ouaknin).

The Arabic article "al" appears in quite a number of names, as in "Unicode|Al-Ḥarisi". Other names of interest, given by Steinschneider in a long list of eight hundred Arabic names in the "Jewish Quarterly Review" (ix. -xiii.), are "Ghayyat" (in Spanish "Gayet"), "Ibn Danan" and "Ibn al-Dayyal", "Al-Haruni" ("the Aaronide", the same as "Cohen"), "Ibn Unicode|Waḳar", "Ibn Zabara" and "Ibn Zimra", "Unicode|Ḥaji" (applied to Karaites who had performed the pilgrimage to Jerusalem), "Unicode|Yaḥya" (equivalent to "John" or "Judah"). "Morel" is said to be derived from "Samuel"; "Molko" means "royal"; "Mas'ud" is equivalent to "Baruch"; "Unicode|Muḳattil" ("champion") would be a proper origin for the family name "Mocatta"; "Najar" and "Najara" refer to carpentry; "Sasun" is merely a transcript of "Sason" ("lily"). The proper names "Sa'id", "Sa'ad", and "Sa'dan" are equally popular among Jews and Arabs. "Abbas" ("lion") corresponds to "Judah", as "Leo" and the like in Europe.

Very many Judæo-Arabic names are compounded of" 'abd" ("servant"), as "Abdallah" and "'Abd al-Walid". "Al-Faraj" occurs as the name of the translator at "Girgenti", and it is possibly the remote origin of the curious name of Admiral Farragut, whose grandfather came from Minorca. It is considered doubtful whether the name of the "Unicode|Ḳimḥis" is Hebrew in that form, or whether it should be pronounced as an Arabic word, "Unicode|Ḳamḥi" ("formed of wheat").


Jews have historically used Hebrew patronymic names. In the Jewish patronymic system the first name is followed by either ben- or bat- ("son of" and "daughter of," respectively), and then the father's name. (Bar-, "son of" in Aramaic, is also seen). Permanent family surnames exist today but only gained popularity among Sephardic Jews in Iberia and elsewhere as early as the 10th or 11th century and did not spread widely to the Ashkenazic Jews of Germany or Eastern Europe until much later. While Jews now have permanent surnames for everyday life, the patronymic form is still used in religious life. It is used in synagogue and in documents in Jewish law such as the ketubah (marriage contract). Many Sephardic Jews used the Arabic ibn instead of bat or ben when it was the norm. The Spanish family Ibn Ezra is one example.

Many immigrants to modern Israel change their names to Hebrew names, to erase remnants of galuti (exiled) life still surviving in family names from other languages. It was especially among in Ashkenazic Jews, because most of their names were taken later and some were imposed by the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires.

A popular form to create a new family name using Jewish patronymics sometimes related to poetic Zionist themes, such as ben Ami ("son of my people"), or ben Artzi ("son of my country"), and sometimes related to the Israeli landscape, such as bar Ilan ("son of the trees"). Others have create Hebrew names based on phonetic similarity with their original family name: Golda Meyersohn became Golda Meir. Another famous person who used a false patronymic was the first Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, whose original family name was Grün but adopted the name "Ben-Gurion" ("son of the lion cub"), not "Ben-Avigdor" (his father's name).

Change of name

Change of name was not an unusual occurrence in Biblical times, if one may judge by the instances occurring among the Patriarchs, and it seems to have been not altogether unknown in later times. Thus, Moses Benveniste mentions a certain Obadiah who wandered from Germany to Turkey in 1654 and changed his name to Moses because the former name was unusual. [Responsa, i. 40] Later in the Middle Ages a person who was dangerously sick would change his name in the hope that the Angel of Death, who summons persons by name, would be baffled thereby. This custom, known as "meshanneh shem," is given in the Talmud [R. H. 17a] and is mentioned by Judah Ḥasid. ["Sefer Ḥasidim," No. 245.] One of the names thus adopted was the appropriate one of "Ḥayyim". [For the various forms of "Ḥayyim" see "Jew. Encyc." vi. 271.] In order to prevent any misunderstanding at the resurrection the cabalists later recommended persons to learn a psalm the first and last verses of which began and ended with the first and last letters of their names. Particular care is to be taken in the writing of names in legal documents, the slightest error in which invalidates them. Hence there are quite a number of monographs on names, both personal and geographical, the first of which was that written by Simḥah Cohen; the best known is that of Samuel ben Phoebus and Ephraim Zalman Margulies entitled "Ṭib Giṭṭin."


It was thought that Jews of the same name should not live in the same town or permit their children to marry into each others' families; ["Sefer Ḥasidim," Nos. 24–34] this seems to have some reference to exogamy. It is even urged that one should not marry a woman of the same name as one's mother; or that she should be required to change it. [ibid., No. 23] Even to the present day it is considered unlucky in Russia for a father-in-law to have the same name as the bridegroom. In other parts of Russia it is considered bad luck to name a child after a living relative. When several children have died in a family the next that is born has no name given to it, but is referred to as "Alter" ( _yi. אלתר, literally "old"), or "Alterke", the view being that the Angel of Death, not knowing the name of the child, will not be able to seize it. When such a child attains the marriageable age, a new name, generally that of one of the Patriarchs, is given to it. For a somewhat similar reason it is considered unlucky in Lithuania to call an only child by his right name.


It was customary for well-known authors of medieval times to be known by the titles of their works rather than by their own names. Thus, Jacob ben Asher is referred to as the "Ṭur" or the "Ba'al ha-Ṭurim"; Joseph Caro is known as the "Bet Yosef"; and Ezekiel Landau as "Noda' bi-Yehudah"; while even more frequently were authors known by contracted forms of their names, with the addition of some honorary prefix, as given above. Among contemporary Hebrew writers this practice is still more widely observed, though no honorary title is prefixed. A list is given by Moïse Schwab in his "Repertoire". [Schwab, Moise. "Repertoire" (Supplement, pp. 200-207)] Most Yiddish writers appear to prefer to write under some pen-name or pseudonym, and their example is at times followed by modern writers of Hebrew, though these, as a rule, prefer to give a name composed of their initials. Following is a list of the most prominent pen-names adopted in recent years by contemporary writers. Many of these print their Hebrew names in Latin characters.

Of course, other Jewish litterateurs besides the above have adopted pen-names. I. Zangwill has written under the names "J. Freeman Bell" (in collaboration), "Countess von S.", and "Marshallik"; Mrs. Frankau is known as "Frank Danby"; and so on; but there is nothing specifically Jewish about this adoption of a pen-name.


* G. Buchanan Gray, "Hebrew Proper Names", London, 1898;
* T. Nöldeke, in "Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl." (with extensive bibliography). Talmudic: Schorr, in "He-Ḥaluẓ", vol. ix.;
* Hirsch Perez Chajes, "Beiträge zur Nordsemitischen Onomatologie";
* Bacher, in "R. E. J." xiv. 42-47. Modern: "Andræe, Zur Volkskunde der Juden", pp. 120-128;
* Zunz, "Namen der Juden", in Ges. Schriften, ii. 1-82;
* Löw, "Lebensalter", pp. 92-109;
* "Orient, Lit." vi. 129-241; vii. 42, 620;
* Steinschneider, in "Hebr. Bibl." pp. 556, 962;
** idem, in "Z. D. M. G." xxxii. 91;
* Hyamson, "Jewish Surnames", in "Jewish Literary Annual", 1903, pp. 53-78;
* M. Sablatzky, "Lexikon der Pseudonymen Hebr. Schriftsteller", Berdychev, 1902.

See also

* Jewish surnames
* Hebrew name
* List of Jewish nobility
* Pedigrees (Jewish Encyclopedia)
* Family name etymology
* German family name etymology
* Jewish Encyclopedia articles
* Polish surnames


External links

* [ GABIN List of Jewish surnames, from a Polish Business Directory]
* [ The Database of Family Names]
* [ The Jews of Ethiopia and their Names]
* [ My Hebrew Name Database]

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