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Jewish Baby Names: Passover possibilities

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In honor of Passover, we invited Israel-based Hannah Katsman to guest blog on Jewish baby names appropriate to this meaningful holiday, many of which are popular in Israel today.

Passover, which falls this year on March 25th to April 2nd, commemorates the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. Passover is also the holiday of spring, and so provides parents with a wide variety of themes for naming babies.

Passover names fall into two groups—traditional names, including Biblical figures from the Passover story, and more modern names reflecting seasonal themes.

(Note: I include each name’s modern Israeli pronunciation. A “ch” should be pronounced as a guttural “h.” The numbers refer to the popularity for Jewish Israeli babies  in 2011, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. )

Traditional Passover names:

Boys:  The most obvious choice is Moses/Moshe (Moh-SHEH, Number 14), the name of the Jewish leader who transformed a nation of slaves into a free and proud people.  The medieval Jewish sage Moshe ben Maimon, more commonly known as Maimonides, was a Passover baby.  Moses’s brother Aaron (Ah-hah-RON, Number 44) stood by Moses’s side when he faced Pharaoh to ask for the Jews’ release from slavery

Traditional non-biblical boy names include Pesach (PEH-sach), the Hebrew name for the holiday, and Nissan (nee-SAHN, Number 381), the Jewish month in which Passover falls.

Girls:  Miriam (meer-YAM, Number 22) and Jocheved (yo-CHE-ved, Number 72), the sister and mother of Moses, feature in the Passover story. Shifrah (shif-RAH, Number 155) and Puah (poo-AH) were the midwives who saved male Jewish babies from being drowned in the Nile.  Pharaoh’s daughter, who rescued Moses’s ark from the Nile, was called Bitya (beet-YAH) according to I Chronicles 4:18. Bitya is often confused with the more common Batya (baht-YAH, Number 109), as the two are spelled identically in Hebrew.

Modern Passover names

Many modern Israeli names fit with Passover themes.  

Omer (OH-mer. 19 for boys, 106 for girls) is the measure of barley brought on the second day of Passover. Dror (de-ROHR, 176 for boys, 375 forgirls) and Cherut (chay-ROOT, 287 for girls) are synonyms for freedom. Aviv (ah-VEEV,  63 for boys, 112 for girls) means spring. You may know of Aviva (a-VEE-vah) an ungrammatical feminization of Aviv that was once hugely popular.

If you like nature names you can find an excellent selection from the Song of Songs, read in the synagogue on the Sabbath of Passover.  Just from one verse, 4:5, we get Ofer (deer, OH-fer, 193 for boys), Ofri (my deer, oh-FREE, 219 for boys, 48 for girls), Tzviya (deer, tzvee-YAH, 176 for girls), as well as Shoshana (lily or rose, shoshahNAH, Number 104).  Sharon (shah-RON,  284 for girls, 367 for boys) refers to the fertile region in central Israel.

Other nature names mentioned in Song of Songs include Mor (myrrh, MOHR, Number 174  for girls, 214 for boys), Nitzan (blossom, nee-TZAHN, 223 for girls, 119 for boys), and Geffen (vine, GEFF-en, 101 for girls, 261 for boys).

In Chapter 7, the narrator yearns for Shulamit (shoo-lah-MEET,  Number 144), a girl’s name implying wholeness or perfection.

Shira (shee-RAH), the second most popular Israeli name for girls, makes a good choice for babies born on the seventh day of Passover.  Exodus describes how Miriam led the women in song after the splitting of the Red Sea. Hallel (52 for girls) refers to the special songs of praise read on several Jewish holidays, including Passover.

Passover marks the end of the wet season. In the fall we prayed for rain, but on the first day of Passover we ask for dew, or Tal (TAHL, 92 for boys, 103 for girls). Popular names ending in Tal include: Lital (my dew, lee-TAHL, 194 for girls), Meital (dew-water, may-TAHL, 229 for girls), the biblical Avital (ah-vee-TAHL 91 for girls) and Ortal (dew-light, or-TAHL, 240 for girls).

All in all,Passover inspires names that reflect the joy and beauty of this special holiday in Israel.

Hannah Katsman, a mom of 6 and lactation consultant, blogs about Israeli parenting, breastfeeding and baby names at A Mother in Israel. At Cooking Manager, she helps home cooks save time and money. She recently published an eBook called Cook Smart! Learn the Secrets of Your Kitchen Appliances

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