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Proper Names. In biblical times, a name expressed a thought or emotion. In the story of Creation, Adam named his wife Eve, or Havah, meaning “life” in Hebrew, because she was the “mother of all living.” When Rachel bore her first son, she named him Joseph, Hebrew for “he will add,” saying, “The Lord will add to me another son.”

Sometimes a name was the compound of two related words. The Hebrew Ab, meaning “father,” was combined with a variety of words: Abishai, Father-of-a-gift; Abner, Father-of-light; Abraham, Father-of-multitudes; and Absalom, Father-of-peace. The Hebrew Ah, or “brother,” was variously fused to make: Ahijah, Brother-of-God; Ahinadab, Brother-of-nobility; and Ahitub, Brother-of-goodness. Ben, Hebrew for “son,” is part of Benjamin, Son-of-the-right-hand or Son-of-good-fortune, and Reuben, Behold-a-son; while Bat, or “daughter,” is in Bathsheba, Daughter-of -the-oath. Often the divine names El, IAH, Jeho, and Shaddai were contained in proper names. El was combined to make Eldad, Beloved-of-God; Elkanah, God-created; Bezalel, In-the-shadow-of-God; and Israel, Warrior-of-God. Most familiar is the use of Iah, as in Isaiah, Help-of-God; and Jeremiah, Whom-God-raised-up. Jeho is found in the names Jehoiadah, Whom-God-favors; Joab, God-desired; and Jonathan, God-given. Finally, Shaddai was used to make Ammishaddai, Kindred-of-God; and Zurishaddai, God-protected.

People were also named after animals and plants: Arieh, Lion; Deborah, Bee; Jonah, Dove; Rachel, Ewe; Tamar, Palm Tree. The custom of naming children after deceased relatives, especially grandparents, was adopted after the Babylonian exile; later, among the Hasidim it was customary to name the boy after a deceased tzaddik, a Hasidic rabbi. Sephardic Jews name their children after living grandparents; among Reform Jews the son often bears the father’s name with the addition of Junior, as among the Christians.

The use of foreign names first found in the later biblical period (e.g., Esther derived from Ishtar, Mordecai from Marduk) became more prevalent in Talmudic and medieval times. Some of the names in Jewish history that bear witness to contact with Greek and Roman civilizations are Antigonus, Symachus, Tarphon, Marcus, Justus, and Titus. The Greek name Alexander was shortened in time to Sander and Sender, while Phoebus became Feivel or Feivish, names that persist in Yiddish to this day. Beginning with the Greek-Hellenistic period, when the records show us Judah-Aristobulus, Salome-Alexandra, Simon-Peter, and Saul-Paul, dual names, one Jewish and the other non-Jewish, became popular under the influence of foreign cultures.

Today, Jewish children as a rule receive one name typical of the country in which they live and one Yiddish or Hebrew name. The tendency is to retain a likeness in sound to the Jewish name: Arthur-Aaron, Hyman-Hayim, Bella-Beile, and Rose-Reizel. A boy’s Hebrew name is usually bestowed at the circumcision ceremony, while a girl is named soon after birth. Among German Jews, the giving of the civic name was marked by the so-called Hollekreisch ceremony on the fourth Sabbath after birth. The first child is named after someone in the father’s family; the second child after someone in the mother’s. Sometimes a child is given two Hebrew or “Jewish” names to satisfy the wishes of both parents.

The influence of the Kabbalah is felt in the naming of children. People who have been dangerously ill are given additional names such as Hayim for men and Hayah for women. Hope for good health is expressed by the name Raphael, “God heals.” Azriel, “God is my help,” invokes divine aid, and Alter or Alte, “Old One,” expresses the wish for a long life. Yiddish contains the largest variety of male and female names adopted from the Hebrew and European languages. Thus, the Hebrew Brakhah becomes Brokhe in Yiddish, Israel becomes Isser, Jacob, Koppel, Mordecai, Motel, Rebbeca, Rive, and Zipporah, Feiga (one Hebrew, the other Yiddish for bird). French and Spanish names also became Yiddishized: Belle becomes Beile, and Esperanza, Sprinze. The Italian name Angelo turns up as Anshel, and Benedetto, Bendet. A few German transformations are Braun to Bryna, Enoch to Henach, Hirsch to Hertz, Freude to Frade, Fradl, or Freidl. From Czech Bohdanka becomes Badane and Benes Beinish. The Russian Dobra becomes Dobre in Yiddish, Khvala, Khvoles, and Zlata, Zlate; the Polish Czarna becomes Charne.

Among Yemenite and other Arabic-speaking Jews, the influence of Arab names is apparent, e.g., Aminah, Asisah, Barhun, Dunash, Faradi, Gamilah, Hassan, Masudah, Nogema, Yahiah, and Yaish. Under the influence of Zionism, the use of biblical names has increased, and new Hebrew names have developed, particularly in the State of Israel. For boys, new names are Amikam, My-people-have-risen; Arnon, Torrent; Eran, Awakened; Raanan, Verdant; Shaanan, Peaceable; Uzzi, My-strength; and Yigal, God-will-redeem. New names for girls include Adinah, Delicate or Noble; Aviva, Spring; Geulah, Redemption; Nitza, Blossom; Nurit, Light; Tikvah, Hope; Zahavah, Goldie. Zionah and Galilah are adaptations of Israel place names.

In the 19th century laws prohibiting Jews to use non-Jewish names were in force in Prussia, Bohemia, and Tsarist Russia. A decree in Nazi Germany, published in August 1938, suggested the use of 276 typical Jewish names (185 for males and 91 for females) for Jewish children born after that date. Among these were such humiliating male names as Ahab and Ahasuerus, wicked biblical kings; Assur, the nation that defeated Israel; Chamor, Esau, Korah, Laban, and Lot, ignoble biblical personalities; Moab, another enemy of Israel; and Orev, a crow. Two wicked queens, Athalaiah, Jezebel, and the ludicrous Chinke and Driesel were Nazi-prescribed names for females. Under this decree, Jewish males and females were ordered to add the names Israel and Sarah, respectively, if their names did not proclaim their Jewish lineage.

Under the influence of the Bible, Christians borrowed many Hebrew names either in their pure biblical form (Aaron, Abner, Abigail, Adah, Beulah) or in a derivative form (Ann, Anna from Hannah, John from Yohanan, Elizabeth from Elisheba, Mary and Maria from Miriam).

. Jewish family names are of recent origin. Until 1800, the father’s name would often be the family name; for example, Aaron ben (son of) Samuel was known as Aaron Samuel. In the early Middle Ages, Cohen, Levi, and their Hebrew abbreviations Katz (from the initials of Kohen Zedek, Priest of Justice) and Segal (from S’gan Levi, Levitical Head) are mentioned. Names such as Aaronson, Abramson, Hirschenson, and Jacobson (and their Slavic forms Aronovsky, Abramsky, Hirshovsky, Yakubovsky, or Aronovitsh, Abramovitsh, Hirshovitsh, and Yakubovitsh) originated from the use of the father’s name. The elimination of “son” restored such names to their anglicized forms (Aaron, Abrahams, Hirsh, Jacobs), while the addition of “mann” to Hebrew or Yiddish proper names created surnames like Abermann (from Abraham), Heymann (Hayim), Koppelmann (Jacob), Mosesmann, Nachmann, Saulmann, and Urimann.

More than 60% of Jewish family names in Europe are of geographic derivation, the oldest being Spiro, Mintz, Horowitz, Liebshitz, and names ending in “burg” (Friedburg, Maidenburg, Ruttenburg, and Warburg). A small percentage denotes occupations (Buchbinder, Drucker, Goldschmidt, Hutmacher, Kirzhner, Lederer, Milner, Schneider, Tischler) or Jewish communal functions (Chazan, Cantor; Lehrer, Teacher; Magid, Preacher; Parnes, President; and Singer). Abbreviations are also common: Asch from Eisenstadt; Bach from Bayit Chadash, “Newhouse”; Bahrav from Ben Ha-rav, “Rabbi’s Son”; Back from Ben Kedoshim, “Son-of-Saints”; Barash from Ben Rabbi Shimon, Son-of-Rabbi-Simon; Shatz from Sheliah Tzibur, “Public Pleader”; Zakheim from Zera Kodesh aim, “Seed-of-Holiness.”

Among American Jews there is a tendency to anglicize the family name; a name such as Katzenelenbogen, one of the oldest among European Jews, may be changed to Katenel, Katzen, Katz, or Kat, ultimately to become Kay. In the State of Israel, the translation of a name into a Hebraized form is popular. Thus, Gutstein becomes Eventov; Lichtstein, Maor or Even-Ur; Goldberg, Har Zahav; Friedberg, Har Shalom; Friedman, Ish Shalom; Derbarimdiker, Rahman or Rahamim; Florentin, Perahiah; Diamant, Yahalom; Rosen, Shoshan; Stock, Sedan or Zmorah; Shertok, Sharett; and Treger, Amos.

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