What’s in a name? Lots–especially when you are talking about a person’s Hebrew/Jewish name. (Henceforth to be referred to as “Hebrew name,” even though some traditional names are actually Aramaic or Yiddish.)

In many families, a name is given to honor or to memorialize a relative.* Many names are of Biblical origin and have profound meanings. For instance, a girl might be named Sarah after her grandmother, but Sarah is also the name of one of the matriarchs and means “princess.”

Beyond the connection that a name may provide to one’s immediate family, it is a reminder to every Jew that he/she is a vital link in the chain of Jewish continuity, with a history that dates back thousands of years.

Our Sages teach that the Jewish people were redeemed from Egyptian bondage because they observed or maintained their separate Jewish identity in three ways: dress, language and names. Despite the fact that the Jewish people were steeped in Egyptian paganism and surrounded by idol worship, differentiating their dress, language and names helped them maintain their unique identity as a people.

A Hebrew name is used to call a person to the Torah and to pray for the health of someone who is ill. This name will also be used on Jewish legal documents such as the Ketubah (the marriage contract) and to invoke the memory of the person after he/she has departed from this world.

It is therefore important that a person’s Hebrew name be used, even if only when celebrating Jewish ritual events or at Hebrew School, so that the identity attached to that name is not lost.

*Sephardim – often name children after a living relative, Ashkenazim – usually name after a relative who has passed away.

This Treat was originally posted on January 14, 2009.

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