Category: Hebrew names
By Aviva Rosenberg
As an Orthodox Jew living in America, with family and friends in Israel, my perspective on Hebrew and Hebrew-origin names is very different than the average. You might be surprised to learn that Suri is a traditional Yiddish nickname for Sarah; Jews around the world either laughed or rolled their eyes when Tom and Katie picked it. And Simcha is common among Jews as well (it was my grandfather’s name), so we didn’t blink when Randi Zuckerberg introduced her Simi to the world.
Here are a few things that you may or may not know about Hebrew names, and how Jews, particularly the Orthodox, approach baby naming.
Most of us are familiar with the names of at least a few angels—after all, archangels Michael and Gabriel and to a lesser extent Raphael, have had widespread and long-lasting popularity over the years.
But there is a profusion of other angelic creatures whose names are not as well known. Thought of as messengers of light, angels are seen as reflecting God’s radiance. There are Biblical angels, seraphim and cherubs, and guardian angels who oversee various days, months, Zodiac signs, natural elements and virtues. There are angels in Persian and other Eastern religions and mythologies, and angels in works of fiction.
Then of course there is the whole family of straightforward Angel names–Angela, Angelica, Angelo, et al, that mean ‘angel’ or ‘messenger'; Evangeline, whose meaning, ‘good messenger’ relates to angel, and Seraphina, which is derived from the word seraphim.
Here, from various sources are 25 angel names worth considering:
- Abraxos – ancient name attributed to an angel
- Arael – angel of birds
- Cael –an angel ruling over the Zodiac sign of Cancer
- Calliel — a throne angel invoked to bring prompt help over adversity
- Charoum – angel of silence
- Dabria – one of five angels who transcribed the books that the Hebrew prophet Ezra dictated
- Dara – angel of rains and rivers in Persian mythology
- Dina – guardian angel of learning and wisdom
- Ezriel—an angel’s name discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
- Hariel — the archangel who rules over December, the dawn and Capricorn; also the angel of tame animals and ruler of science and the arts
- Irin – the name of twin angels who constitute the supreme judgment of the heavenly court
- Janiel – angel ruling Tuesday and the east wind
- Javan – the guardian angel of Greece
- Kemuel – chief of the seraphim who stands at the window of heaven
- Laila, Lailah, Layla –the angel of conception who oversees and protects childbirth
- Nabu – a recording angel in heaven
- Nitika – Native American name meaning angel of precious stones
- Rabia – one of the ten angels accompanying the sun on its daily course
- Rachiel – angel who rules Venus and governs sexuality
- Raziel – an archangel who guards the secrets of the universe, the angel of mysteries
- Sarea – another of the five angels who transcribed the books the prophet Ezra dictated
- Tariel—the angel of summer
- Uriel – angel of the month of September, of those born under the signs of Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn; an angel of creativity
- Yael/Jael – a cherub who attends the throne of God
- Zaniel – angel who rules Mondays and the sign of Libra
Do you have a favorite angel name of your own?
Guest blogger Hilary Zalon, founder of thecradle.com, explains the modern tradition of the Jewish naming ceremony for girls.
I have two wonderful daughters. And while I was never averse to having a little boy, I’m relieved that I was able to skip the Jewish ritual to welcome a son. In fact, the relatively new Jewish ceremony to welcome a daughter is much more up my alley.
If you’re not Jewish, or aren’t familiar with these traditions, here’s a quick 101: The male ceremony is a ‘brit milah’ – also known as a bris - the ceremony for circumcising an eight-day-old boy. The female ceremony goes by a number of names, including ‘simchat bat’ (rejoicing of the daughter), all to celebrate…get this…naming your daughter!
No sharp implements. No rush to get a party together in eight days while recovering from the actual delivery of the baby. And we get to celebrate one of the most enjoyable parts of welcoming a baby – choosing a name. In this instance, we’re celebrating the Hebrew name, so we get to pick even more names!
Many refer to a baby naming as a “modern” or “contemporary” tradition, and while there are signs that baby naming rituals happened hundreds of years ago, it really became a more recognized option for parents in the ‘70’s (likely coinciding with the rise of feminism and the increase in bat-mitzvahs). Since it is so new (forty years is nothing when you’re dealing with a history that’s over 5,000 years old), it is still up to personal interpretation and the ceremony can really represent your family’s personality and style.
We’re not a very religious family, but we do have a strong pride in our heritage and our Jewish community. For both of our daughters, we waited until they were 9-10 months old, which is probably a lot longer than most people wait. Some parents have a naming ceremony just eight days after the birth (echoing the male circumcision ritual). Others say a blessing for their daughter when they are called to the Torah – sometimes as early as the first Sabbath after the birth.
At our event, the rabbi led a very simple and beautiful ceremony at our home, which included a welcome prayer, description of the ceremony, an explanation of the names we chose, a blessing for our daughter, and a blessing for everyone. As with most of our Jewish traditions, there is wine and food. Those two are always a hit. (Although finding good bagels in L.A. is still a struggle.)
As for the names we chose:
Our older daughter’s given name is Sasha Leah (honoring my grandmother, Sylvia, and my husband’s grandmother, Leah). The Hebrew name is traditionally the Hebrew name of the person she is named for. Since my grandmother didn’t have a Hebrew name that was meaningful to her, we were able to choose a name that was actually a second-runner up to her given name. And her middle name was a no-brainer since her given middle name is already a Hebrew name. She received her Hebrew name, Sivan Leah, right after my dad joked, “Anyone want a slice of Sivan Leah cake?”
Our younger daughter is Esmé Juliette (for my grandmother, Eva, and my husband’s grandfather, Jack). Ever since I read JD Salinger’s Nine Stories in school, I was stuck on the name Esmé – but I hadn’t read or seen any of the Twilight books or movies, so when I learned about the character named Esmé, my heart sank a bit – only out of a little sadness that this ‘secret’ gem of a name (actually popular in South Africa and a few European companies) might become more well known! Her Hebrew name, Chava Yael, was another half-given: Chava is the Hebrew name for Eva/Eve. But since her middle name was for a male, we felt we could choose any name we liked that started with a Y (the Hebrew alphabet doesn’t use J’s). We were able to avoid my father’s imminent joke that her middle name should be ‘Piece-a’ so his granddaughters could be ‘Chava Piece-a Sivan Leah’ cake.
Hilary Zalon founded TheCradle.com, an award-winning online resource for expectant and new parents. Since the sale of the site to giggle, Hilary has been exploring a number of different ventures, her favorite being enjoying more time with her daughters and husband.
Yiddish names have a rich history, rooted in an older generation of Jewish people belonging to the Ashkenazic (from Germany and Eastern Europe) community. The Yiddish language evolved during medieval times from High German (influenced by Hebrew and some eastern European languages), and the word “Yiddish” itself literally means “Jewish.” Genealogists familiar with old U.S. Federal Census records will have noticed many a census record where the census taker recorded an immigrant’s language as being “Jewish” when it more properly should have been recorded as “Yiddish.”
While many fondly associate Yiddish names with their beloved grandparents and great-grandparents, Yiddish is nonetheless making a comeback. California‘s San Francisco Bay area is home to Der Bay, a widely circulated Anglo-Yiddish newsletter of events, and such movies as Fiddler on the Roof and the animated An American Tail (both featuring Yiddish-named characters) are fondly familiar to mainstream America.
Accounting for the many spelling variations of Yiddish names is the fact that Yiddish is a language written in Hebrew letters, which then may be transliterated into the letters of the Roman alphabet for English language readers and speakers. In Yiddish names, “creative spellings” (a frequent complaint on Internet baby name discussion boards) are not only common, but necessary!
Here are some Yiddish names (with their variations) worth considering:
BIELKA, BIELKE — “beautiful, white.”
BLIMA, BLUMA — “flower.”
DAVRUSHA –“ form of Deborah, the Biblical prophetess and judge.
HINDA, HINDE — “hind, doe.”
Seraphina‘s name, which means fiery or ardent in Hebrew, comes from the Seraphim, the high order of six-winged angels. Spelled Serafina in Spanish and Italian, this elaborately feminine name is in step with the Isabellas and Gabriellas so popular today, yet is far more distinctive.
Jen and Ben have proven their baby naming know-how with this gorgeous choice, a great match for Violet, and it’s sure to rise up the popularity list along with that of her big sister. Much more unusual than Violet, Seraphina hasn’t ever appeared in the Top 1000 of the Social Security list in the past century.
Rose is the middle name du jour, a flower name match for Violet. And, like many young Americans following the British tradition, the couple has chosen two middle names (although some people have already expressed the objection that it wasn’t fair for this baby to get one more than her big sister).
Seraphina hasn’t appeared much in popular culture references, though a couple of its variations have. With the Latin Serafina spelling, it was the name of the passionate heroine of Tennessee Williams The Rose Tattoo, and just last year it was a character played by Eva Green in The Golden Compass. It’s also reminiscent of Sarafina, the South African hit musical that played on Broadway in the 90s.
What do we think of Seraphina? Let’s just say that we picked it as one of the Authors’ Favorites recommendations in The Baby Name Bible.