Are you more of a Dan than a Charles? Prefer the name Susan to Shari? Would you rather be called Rumpelstiltskin? Then forget birthdays, tomorrow is your special day, because April 9th has been designated National Name Yourself Day!
Why is this offbeat holiday celebrated — and how? Truly, we have no idea. But we thought it was a good idea to talk about the significance of Hebrew names. Some of us have them, some of us don’t, and some of us don’t remember the ones we have. So, what are they and why are they important?
A Hebrew name is exactly as it sounds: a name derived from Hebrew letters. Hebrew names are traditionally bestowed upon boys during a bris, while girls have an official baby naming ceremony. However, depending on your own personal and spiritual beliefs, a Hebrew name can be chosen at any time.
Many parents name their children for relatives who have died as a way to keep their memory alive. For example, if a grandfather who passed away was named Yakov, the grandson may be named Yakov as well, or may have a name like Yaron, that starts with the same Hebrew letter. Some families choose just a first name; others add a Hebrew middle name too.
But why even bother with a Hebrew name? You can just as easily name a person for a loved one in English. According to Jewish law, however, a person must have a Hebrew name for Jewish documents, such as the ketubah (the marriage contract), to be legal. In addition, for those who attend synagogue, if a person is to be called to the bimah or prayed for when sick, the Hebrew name is most traditionally used.
Is there a reason you can’t name a person after a relative who is living? Evidently there is a superstition that the Angel of Death may get confused if a baby shares the same name as an older relative and, therefore, may take the baby instead.
What happens if you convert to Judaism — who gives you a Hebrew name then? Well, you do! As part of becoming a new person spiritually, you are granted the power to choose your own Hebrew name.
If you were never given a Hebrew name, there’s no time like the present to select yours. Tomorrow is Name Yourself Day, after all.
Got a Hebrew name or an interesting story about who you’re named for? Share it with us!