Israeli Baby Names

To commemorate the Feast of Purim this weekend and the other major Jewish holidays coming up on the calendar, we turned to Israel-resident Hannah Katsman for an overview of current trends in Israeli baby names.

When Israelis are choosing names for their babies, they tend to focus on meaning as much as the sound of the name. And even though Israel has become more westernized, most parents continue to choose Hebrew names.

It’s true that most traditional biblical names like Rivka (Rebecca)  and Moshe (Moses) cannot be considered trendy except in the most religious circles. Yiddish and other ethnic names are out, as are the feminization of biblical names like Israela, Raphaela and Shimona or Simona–though Gavriella is one that is coming back.

The most popular Israeli baby names are short, rarely over two syllables, and they are often unisex.

There are differences among the various Jewish communities in Israel, with some names found only in secular communities and others only in religious ones. Secular Israelis don’t usually give middle names, while religious ones do. They might choose a modern name for the first name, and a more traditional one for the second name, after a relative.

Trends in Israeli baby  names include nature, weather words (boy—Sa’ar, storm), and Israeli place names (unisex—Yarden, Jordan). Other popular themes are water (unisex—Agam, lake), light, music (unisex—Tzlil, note), animals, and angels like Uriel. A few biblical names have made a comeback or stayed in style, including Daniel (unisex), Noa (girl), Rachel (girl), and Assaf (boy).

Another trend is using foreign names that have a Hebrew lilt, such as Liam, May (pronounced my), Maya, and Yuli (Julie).  Ann, pronounced Ahn, is also appearing on popularity lists; this is because Israelis want names that will work in other countries. Bar, meaning wilderness, is a popular name, as in super-model Bar Raphaeli. Agam Rotenberg is another high-profile female model.

After someone famous dies, whether they be rabbis, sports heroes, politicians, terror victims, or generals, there is usually a rash of babies named after him or her.

As a rule, Israelis like slightly unusual names but avoid completely unique or made-up ones, not wanting other children to make fun of their child’s name.

To give you a taste for Israelibaby  names, I’ve chosen ten popular names in each gender, along with their meanings. For good measure, I threw in another ten unisex names. 

Pronunciation: Unless noted, names are accented on the last syllable. “Ch” is pronounced with a guttural “h.” A is pronounced “ah” and I as a long “ee” sound. E’s are short as in bed. U’s are long as in boot.

GIRLS

  1. Alma, maiden.
  2. Hila, halo.
  3. Keshet, rainbow. Here the accent is on the first syllable.
  4. Keren, ray of light. Accent on first syllable.
  5. Moriah, name of Jerusalem mountain. Popular in religious circles.
  6. Vered, rose.
  7. Shir, Shira, song.
  8. Talya, a female lamb.
  9. Ya’el, ibex. Another biblical name that remains popular.
  10. Yahel, related to Hila, meaning it will light.

 Boys

  1. Eitan, strong. The first syllable rhymes with hay.
  2. Hermon, a mountain in northern Israel.
  3. Matan, a gift.
  4. Narkis, narcissus.
  5. Peleg, brook. Accent on first syllable.
  6. Ra’anan, renewal or refreshing
  7. Sagi, lofty.
  8. Sela, rock. Accent on first syllable.
  9. Suf, reed.
  10.  Tzuk, cliff.

UNISEX

These are among the most trendy:

  1. Adi, ornament.
  2. Chen, grace (same root as the bibilical Hannah)
  3. Li, for me. This represents a trend toward choosing names that easily translate into English.
  4. Mor, myrrh
  5. Or/Ori, light/my light.
  6. Paz, golden, with Pazit for girls only. Many names are feminized or altered with an “it” ending including Stavit, Sagit, Orit, Hilit.
  7. Shai, gift. Names ending with a long “I” sound are also in.
  8. Shaked, almond
  9. Stav, fall (modern Hebrew) or winter (biblical—Israel has no real fall season)
  10. Tom, innocence.

Hannah will be happy to answer any questions you have in the comments.

 Hannah Katsman is a mom of six who moved from the US to Israel twenty years ago. Since 2006 she has been writing about parenting at A Mother in Israel; to respond to queries from overseas readers, she recently opened the Israeli Baby Names Forum. You can also check out Hannah’s blog CookingManager.Com, where she helps home cooks save time and money.

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47 Responses to “Israeli Baby Names”

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linelei Says:

March 18th, 2011 at 1:42 am

Very fun! I know some Israeli families living in the U.S., and their children all have names that end in I (the ee sound): Lavi, Gali, Romi, and Tzuri. Romi is the only girl. I’ve noticed that meaning is very important. Also, when my friend was pregnant, she refused to tell anyone the name, because it would be bad luck.

I love Shira! That’s beautiful. Sela is also very sweet.

Hannah @A Mother in Israel Says:

March 18th, 2011 at 4:36 am

Yes, Linelei, they are popular. Adding an ee at then end means
“my” as in Ro’i (my shepherd) and Ori (my light). Sometimes it is more of a nickname but not always easy to tell (like in Gali). With Lavi, it’s a grammatical part of the word (lion) but Libi means my heart.

Hannah @A Mother in Israel Says:

March 18th, 2011 at 4:43 am

Forgot to say that Vered is also accented on the first syllable.

nameluvr Says:

March 18th, 2011 at 4:43 am

Ooh, such great names! I love Keren, Vered, and Shira. I have a couple questions — you mentioned nature names, are there any names that mean “rain” or “cloud”? And is Libi a real name in Israel or just a nickname? It’s really cute!

Hannah @A Mother in Israel Says:

March 18th, 2011 at 5:02 am

Nameluvr: Yes, Libi has become a real name. Rain: Matar, Usually boys as far as I can tell. Cloud would be Anan. I am pretty sure there are a few out there but I don’t know of any. In our dry country clouds and rain are welcome.

Filipa Says:

March 18th, 2011 at 5:05 am

I loved Alma, Keshet, Paz and Stav. You mentioned thar “secular Israelis don’t usually give middle names, while religious ones do” – Is there any reason for this to happen? Thank you!

Hannah @A Mother in Israel Says:

March 18th, 2011 at 5:08 am

Filipa, not sure but like I said, perhaps religious couples are more concerned about keeping the grandparents’ names in the family. Tradition!
And linelei, you are right that in Jewish tradition, the name is kept secret until after the official religious naming.

pam Says:

March 18th, 2011 at 8:01 am

Thanks for this wonderful blog, Hannah. I learned a lot!

chasida Says:

March 18th, 2011 at 8:26 am

Nameluvr: Tal, which means dew, is also unisex and pretty popular.

Belona Says:

March 18th, 2011 at 10:23 am

I once met an Israeli girl named Anat. What does that name mean?

Hannah @A Mother in Israel Says:

March 18th, 2011 at 10:38 am

Belona, Anat is the name of a Greek goddess (Athena) and presumably that is where the name came from. It’s very common here. Anat is also a biblical name, the father of Shamgar the judge. Don’t know any boys named Anat, though. I found an answer to this question by rabbi who says that the Hebrew meaning is from the word Anah, answered (as in God answered a prayer).

m Says:

March 18th, 2011 at 11:09 am

We named our second son Avner. One of our midwives was surprised, as she’s Israeli and had never heard the name used here (we’re in Canada). We’re not Jewish or have any connections to Israel; a friend had suggested the name and we simply really liked it. Our midwife said the name was quite popular in Israel and I’m curious to how popular it is.

sadiesadie Says:

March 18th, 2011 at 11:56 am

I love this blog. The only Israeli name I know is Ziva from NCIS. There are some pretty cool ones here.

MargueriteJane Says:

March 18th, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Great blog! I have a question. For years I’ve been wondering how to properly pronounce the name Elisheva. It’s such a stunning name imo. Hope you can help me! 🙂
~MargueriteJane

Abby Says:

March 18th, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Oooh, I love this! Thank you so much, Hannah.

I’m particularly interested in the unisex list – is there any controversy over using them? There’s so much talk in the US about “stealing” boys’ names for girls, or worry that a boy called Avery will face teasing because he has a “girl’s” name.

IrisRose Says:

March 18th, 2011 at 7:45 pm

I love a lot of Israeli/Hebrew names but I’m pretty sure most of them are like the US equivalent of Barbara, Carol, Brenda, Gertrude, or Cheryl. To name a few, Aviva, Miriam, Ayelet, Liora, Mayim, and Tamar… any of those current? From the ones you listed, I like Alma and Shira a lot.

I have an Israeli friend named Zohar, which I think is nice. Popular names for her age group seem to be Adi, Liat, Maya, Yael, Amit, Gal, Lior, and Noa/Noam.

Suki Says:

March 19th, 2011 at 2:48 am

Toda raba, Hannah!! Fabulous post :-). Can you please tell me how common/acceptable is “Avi” as a girl’s nickname say, for Aviva? I know it is a nickname for many Hebrew male names, and knew a man whose full name was Avi too. But for girls, is it accepted also? Thanks again and I hope you can post more in the future!

Smiling_Sukie Says:

March 19th, 2011 at 3:06 am

Toda raba, Hannah! (I apologize if this post appears twice–I tried to send the first time but it never appeared [yet!] so here I am again :-))

I agree with everyone else–this is a fabulous post!!!

Could you please tell me if you would add “Avi” to the unisex list? How common/acceptable do you think it is for a girl to have this nickname (short for Aviva or Avital, for example)? I know a man whose full name is Avi and there are numerous male names that can have this nickname, but is it frowned upon or confusing if a girl has it too?

One more question, please: how do you pronounce “Moshe?” Some I know say “Mo-sheh” and others Moishe as in “Moy-shee.” They both mean “Moses” so is there a difference?

Thanks again and I hope you can post soon in the future if your children allow you the time :-)!!

ToniVit Says:

March 19th, 2011 at 9:07 am

So happy to see our friends’ little girl Vered on the list! Their son Judah SHOULD be! We think both are GREAT names!
Question…you mention babies being named after famous people who’ve recently died. I’ve been told that Jewish people don’t name a baby Adam after a grandfather Adam, for example, but rather choose the letter…say….Agam or Abraham after Adam dies.

daisy Says:

March 19th, 2011 at 11:50 am

I adore the name Avital! I know twins whose father is from Israel named Avital and Matar 🙂

Ruth Says:

March 19th, 2011 at 1:58 pm

My second daughter’s name is Shira Li. I’d never heard of any other Israeli with the name Li. In fact, only last week my kids told me that Li wasn’t a real name, that we just “made it up”.

Glad to have confirmation, Hannah! Thanks!

Hannah @A Mother in Israel Says:

March 19th, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Thanks so much for the kind words! As Linda said, it’s a holiday weekend but I’ll try to answer as soon as I can.
m: Avner is moderately popular, my 20yo had one in his class and we know of a few others.
Sadiesadie: Ziva is one of the feminized names that is less popular. Nowadays many girls and boys are named Ziv, also means light.
MargaretJane: eh-lee-sheh-vuh
Abby, I haven’t heard any controversy. Of course, many parents prefer a name associated with one gender.
Suki, People would assume that Avi is a boy. I’m sure there are girls out there who are called it, though. Israelis like nicknames. As for Moshe, it’s too complicated for a comment but there are a few ways to pronounce Hebrew. Modern Hebrew, or sephardic (North African) pronunciation, would be Mo-sheh, with an accent on the 2nd syllable. Moyshee is Ashkenazic or Eastern European. The -ee ending is more of a nickname thing

Hannah @A Mother in Israel Says:

March 19th, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Tonivit–Judah is an anglicized version of Yehuda, which is a biblical name popular mainly in religious circles.
Ruth, you’re welcome. 🙂
IrisRose: , Aviva, Miriam both old-fashioned. Ayelet & Liora–not trendy but still around. Mayim–trendy and Tamar–coming back in style.

I have an Israeli friend named Zohar, which I think is nice.
I just ready an article by a woman uniquely name Zoheret, after her grandmother Zehira. Her parents couldn’t decide between Zohar and Zehira. Zohar is unisex by the way.
Adi, Liat, Maya, Yael, Amit, Gal, Lior, and Noa/Noam. Those are all popular, Liat is perhaps on its way out although my daughter has one in her class.

Hannah @A Mother in Israel Says:

March 19th, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Sorry IrisRose–I left your comment in when I cut and pasted the names.

ToniVit: The initial thing is a relatively recent thing, mainly in countries where parents did not want to give a Hebrew or Yiddish name. So Chayim became Charlie, Moshe Morris, etc. It’s done in Israel too, but with modern Hebrew names replacing old-fashioned ones. There’s a very strong tradition of naming after living or dead grandparents, depending on the country.

isabel Says:

March 19th, 2011 at 9:57 pm

My new cousin’s name is Alma and she’s Israeli. 🙂

isabel Says:

March 19th, 2011 at 9:58 pm

Also, my other cousin is Aviva nn Avivi and I know a Liat and a Yael.

isabel Says:

March 19th, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Oh, and I have a cousin Yarden too! Ahh! 🙂

linzybindi Says:

March 19th, 2011 at 10:33 pm

I have a sister (41) named Leora…my dad named her. She isn’t a fan of her name so she goes by Lori but I love it! We’re not Israeli so I’m not sure how he discovered her name.

I went to school with brothers named Eitan and Eleazar.
I always thought their names were so cool!

Hannah @A Mother in Israel Says:

March 20th, 2011 at 2:48 am

My husband said that Anat is a Canaanite goddess.

Yosefa Says:

March 20th, 2011 at 6:13 am

Great post! I believe Talya/Talia can also mean dew of G-d. We liked the name Tal or Tali, but chose the strictly feminine Talia for our little lamb. My daughter was born right before we moved to Israel and I am so glad we didn’t name her one of the runners up on our list – Noa or Na’ama, as they are a little too popular.

We have a tradition not to name girls after boys and v.v. We also try not to change the name too much. Using the first letter is a modern American thing. Israelis do get a little creative with the name. Like my cousin is named after her grandmother Anna who passed away right before she was born. Her mom named her Lian, “my Ann.”

Not all religious people give middle names. My whole family has middle names, and Israel’s don’t always know how to deal with a middle name on a form. When we opened bank accounts, the clerk kept calling us by our middle names. My religious Israeli friend is the only one in her family with a middle name and she resents it and thinks it’s unnessesary.

Jillymommy Says:

March 20th, 2011 at 9:25 am

Hi, Hannah! Wish I would have known about you a year ago when my DH and I were struggling to find a name. I *really* wanted a Hebrew/Israeli name, and DH wanted a name that he could pronounce and work well in North America. Our compromise name (that we both fell in love with) as Aria Mayiam for our daughter. From what I have hear, Aria isn’t really known as a girl’s name in Israel. But when I say to Isralies, it’s like Ariel, but instead of “el”, “yah” they sooo “ohhh! That’s really pretty.” Some get it without the explaination. I also understand that Mayim is also a rare girl’s name. American Jews seem to like it. Anything other insights you can provide into our little girl’s name? Thanks. (She’s 13 months now, but I am still addicted to nameberry–names are so interesting!)

Rose Says:

March 20th, 2011 at 11:08 am

Love the name Shira! How do you pronounce Ya’el?

Sunday Summary: 3/20/11 | Appellation Mountain Says:

March 20th, 2011 at 1:53 pm

[…] this post at Nameberry on Israeli Baby Names.  I was surprised at the long list of unisex names.  The author, Hannah of […]

Hannah @A Mother in Israel Says:

March 20th, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Yosefa, you’re right that many religious couples don’t give middle names. Our secular American friends just gave their son 3 names! So you can never know.
Jillymommy, Aria sounds similar to Aryeh, a boy’s name meaning lion. I think it would be confusing for Israelis. I think Mayim is becoming more common, but my teen daughter hasn’t heard of it.
Rose, Yah-EL with the accent on the second syllable.

Purim Links, Baby Names and More Says:

March 20th, 2011 at 3:35 pm

[…] I posted about Israeli Baby Names at the Nameberry blog. […]

vajsa Says:

March 22nd, 2011 at 6:39 am

Lately I have met 2 baby-girls Narkiss-but no boy by this name

T Says:

March 22nd, 2011 at 12:46 pm

I also love the name Aziza, not that my husband would ever go for it.

Hannah @A Mother in Israel Says:

March 23rd, 2011 at 8:34 am

Thank you Vasja for your comment. Narkiss would probably fit the unisex list better.
T, I haven’t heard Aziza lately.

Caz Says:

May 9th, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Loved the article, very interesting! I’m not Isreali, but my husband is and we are both Jewish – we live in the UK. When I went to Sunday School (Cheder – a very long time ago!) I always liked the word Vered when we learnt it, now that I realise it’s not just a word, next daughter here it comes!
My husbands family have ‘very Israeli names’ having been born there;
Ya’acov
Tirtza
Binyamin
Barr
Ophir (My husband)
Aviyam
and Lottem

I was wondering what the meaning of Lottem was? Also I’d like to honour Tirtza in some way, apparently Naomi (which was also my mother’s name) means the same thing?
I have friends in Isreal
Boaz
Gal
Shoval
and Ronen

I was wondering about the meanings of Boaz and Ronen. Apparently Gal means Wave and Shoval means Shooting star.

Toda!

Hannah Katsman Says:

May 9th, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Hi Caz! Lotem is a flower, a cistus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cistus
Naomi means my pleasantness. Tirtzah–no consensus here on the meaning. It’s used here in Israel.
Boaz means “Daring is in him.”
Ronen means song.
Shoval is the tail of a comet.
Thanks for your comments and wishing you an easy pregnancy and birth. You can get more opinions from my readers: amotherinisrael.com/israeli-baby-names-forum

linda Says:

May 9th, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Thanks, Hannah!!

Asher-Menachem Says:

May 28th, 2011 at 9:10 pm

I am an American Jew and was wondering how common hyphenated first names are in Israel. My first Name is Asher-Menachem and I’ve only known one other American Male Jew with a hyphenated first name and his was Noach-Dovid.

Hannah @A Mother in Israel Says:

June 26th, 2011 at 8:41 am

Hi A-M,
Israelis may have middle names, but I’ve only seen last names commonly hyphenated. Many people, especially in religious circles, are called by both their first and middle names. But I don’t believe they are usually written with hyphens.

Tori Says:

July 18th, 2011 at 9:20 am

Interesting.

My mother’s father was an Israeli who moved to Germany with his parents (he was a baby at the time) and their large family and opened up a barbers they were apparently thinking of expanding their business when Hitler came on the scene. My Grandfather moved over to the UK with his parents and aunt and uncle when the opression against the Jews was starting to get ‘intense’ but some of his family remained in Germany and consequently died. My Grandfather married by English grandmother and they brought my mum and her sister as Jewish. Some names on my Jewish side of the family are; Miriam, Levi, Daniel, Sarah, Malachi and they are all currenly in Jurelasm.
My favourite boy’s name is Levi which I’m told is very ‘Jewish’. 😉

Shira Says:

July 27th, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Love all the comments. My name is Shira and I grew up as the lone Southern Jew in Alabama, US. Everyone mispronounces my name or inquires about its origin. Glad to see I made it to the top 10 in Israel! My sister is Tovah and she was constantly teased about it as a child. She gave her children very Anglican names to avoid such a fate. If/when I have children it is known that they will have Jewish names too.

Hannah @A Mother in Israel Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 7:44 am

Hi Tori,
Nice names, Tori. Levi is a son of Jacob in the book of Genesis–can’t get more Jewish than that!
Hi Shira, Yes, your name is indeed making a comeback. It’s interesting how different children in a family feel about their names.

kbc111 Says:

March 16th, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Hannah – I see that it has been a year since you posted this, but hopefully you still check for comments every now and then.

I am expecting a boy in June and my husband and I are having a hard time picking a name for him. My other children are Shoshana, Jonah, and Ezra. So, I like Hebrew names that go well in the U.S. We have a Hebrew Baby Name book, but it was published back in the mid 1980’s so I feel like anything in would be somewhat dated as to what is possibly in or fresh.

We are hoping to name after my grandmother (Louise/Leah) with an “L” name, but are also open to naming after other relatives with an O, R, A or M name.

We really like Liam, but it is WAY too popular in the U.S. for our tastes. As a result, I like Liav, since it has a similar sound. Hubby thinks it sounds feminine. He prefers Levi, which is a classic Jewish name (we would use a classic American pronunciation of Lee – Vi instead of the hebrew Ley-vee. I do like the name, but our last name is Cohen and I wonder if it just is strange to have a Levi Cohen. I tease that to round it out we should give him the middle name Yisrael just to cover all our bases.

Can you recommend some current Hebrew names that we should consider? Thanks!

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