Jewish Baby Names: A Passover menu of Yiddish names
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.”
LIBKA, LIBKE — “love.”
RAISA, RAISEL, ROIZA — “rose.”
SHPRINTZA, SHPRINTZE — “ origin uncertain. This name may have been derived from the German word sprinze (“sparrowhawk”) or the Italian word speranza (“hope”).
SISEL, SUSYA, ZISSA, ZISSEL –“sweet.”
TOIBA, TOYBA — “dove.”
ZLATA — “golden.”
BENESH — derived from the Latin name Benedict (“blessed”).
KALMEN — created by Greek-speaking Jews, from Kalonymos, meaning “beautiful name.”
SHEMTOV — created by Jews from the Hebrew expression meaning “good name.”
VIGDOR — derived from Avigdor, meaning “Father of Gedor” and a nickname for Moses in the Bible.
ZELIG — “blessed.”
ZISKEL, ZISKIND — “sweet child.”
You’d be hard put to find any Hebrew/Yiddish names on the Social Security list, but one place where they can be found in abundance is on the New York City roster. Here, from NYC’s Top Baby Names of 2008 (in order of popularity), are Jewish names which do not appear on the SSA Top 1,000 of 2008:
To read more about Yiddish names, I refer you to these books:
Beider, Alexander. A Dictionary of Ashkenazic Given Names (Avotaynu, 2001)
Gorr, Shmuel. Jewish Personal Names (Avotaynu, 1992)
Nephele is the ‘net name of an obsessive anagrammatist and lover of names who is known for her anagrammed name make-overs on various themes which she provides as a fun service to Nameberryites on the “Talk About Names” forum. She wrote previously for us on Baby Girl Names from Ancient Rome and Flower Fairy Names and has also contributed Colorful Crayon Names.
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