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 Israeli baby 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.
Keshet, rainbow. Here the accent is on the first syllable.
Keren, ray of light. Accent on first syllable.
Moriah, name of Jerusalem mountain. Popular in religious circles.
Talya, a female lamb.
Ya’el, ibex. Another biblical name that remains popular.
Yahel, related to Hila, meaning it will light.
Eitan, strong. The first syllable rhymes with hay.
Matan, a gift.
Peleg, brook. Accent on first syllable.
Ra’anan, renewal or refreshing
Sela, rock. Accent on first syllable.
These are among the most trendy:
Li, for me. This represents a trend toward choosing names that easily translate into English.
Or/Ori, light/my light.
Shai, gift. Names ending with a long “I” sound are also in.
Stav, fall (modern Hebrew) or winter (biblical—Israel has no real fall season)
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.