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Jewish Baby Names: A Passover menu of Yiddish names

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Jewish baby names

By Nephele

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:

GIRLS

BIELKA, BIELKE — “beautiful, white.”

BLIMA, BLUMA — “flower.”

BREINDEL –“brunette.”

CHANI– derived from Chanah, Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel in the Bible.

CHAVA, CHAVELE, KHAVA, KHAVE – “life,” the name of Adam‘s wife (known as Eve in English).

DAVRUSHA –“ form of Deborah, the Biblical prophetess and judge.

FREIDEL– “joy.”

GOLDA, GOLDE — “gold.”

HINDA, HINDE —  “hind, doe.”

HODEL — form of Hadassah, the Hebrew name of the heroine Esther in the Bible.

KAILA, KAYLA, KEILA —  possibly from the Hebrew Kelila: “crown.”

LAILA, LEILA — from Hebrew: “night; dark beauty.”

LIBKA, LIBKE — “love.”

MARIASHA, MIRI, MIRELA –“ forms of Miriam, the sister of Moses in the Bible.

MINDA, MINDEL –“ possibly from a Middle High German word meaing “love,” or possibly from the Hebrew name Menuchah (“peaceful”), or the German name Wilhelmina (“resolute protection”).

RAISA, RAISEL, ROIZA — “rose.”

RIFKA, RIVA, RIVKA —  forms of Rebecca, wife of Isaac in the Bible.

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.”

TZEITEL — “ form of Sarah, wife of Abraham in the Bible.

TZIPI — derived from Zipporah, wife of Moses in the Bible.

ZLATA — “golden.”

BOYS

ANSHEL — derived from the German name Anselm (“God’s protection”).

AVROM — form of Abraham, the Biblical patriarch.

BENESH — derived from the Latin name Benedict (“blessed”).

FEIVEL —  derived from the Latin and Greek name Phoebus (“bright one”).

FISHEL, FISHL– “little fish.” As far back as the Middle Ages, the Ashkenazim considered this name to be a kinnui of the Hebrew name Ephraim (the reason unknown). Kinnuim are secular names (Fishel, Fishl) that have different meanings from the sacred name (Ephraim) to which they have become associated over the generations. You’ll see other kinnuim in this list: Hershel is a kinnui of Naphtali, Leib is a kinnui of Judah, Zev is a kinnui of Benjamin, etc.

GAVRIL —  form of Gabriel, the Biblical archangel.

HASKEL — form of Ezekiel, the Biblical prophet.

HERSHEL, HIRSH — “stag, deer,” referring to Jacob‘s son Naphtali, who is compared to a deer in the Bible.

KALMEN — created by Greek-speaking Jews, from Kalonymos, meaning “beautiful name.”

KAPEL, YANKEL — derived from Jacob, the Biblical patriarch.

LEIB, LEV — “lion,” referring to Jacob‘s son Judah, who is compared to a young lion in the Bible.

MENDEL — derived from Menachem, a Biblical king.

MOTEL, MOTTEL — derived from Mordecai, the cousin and tutor of Esther in the Bible.

OREN, ORON — forms of Aaron, the brother of Moses in the Bible.

SHEMTOV —  created by Jews from the Hebrew expression meaning “good name.”

SHLOMO, ZALMAN —  forms of Solomon, the Biblical king.

SHMUEL, SHMUL — forms of Samuel, the Biblical prophet.

TEVYE, TUVYE — forms of Tobias, Tobijah, a righteous Israelite in the Bible.

VIGDOR —  derived from Avigdor, meaning “Father of Gedor” and a nickname for Moses in the Bible.

ZEFF, ZEV — “wolf,” referring to Jacob‘s son Benjamin, who is compared to a wolf 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:

BOYS
YISROEL
YITZCHOK
TZVI
SHULEM
YECHIEL
DOVID
AVROHOM
ELIMELECH
HERSHY
SHAYA
NAFTULI
CHESKEL
SHLOME
BINYOMIN
KACPER
BENZION
CHESKY
LIPA
SHIMSHON
MORDCHE
SHLOMA
SHRAGA
GIRLS
FAIGY
MALKY
RAIZY
RIVKY
HINDY
ROCHEL
BLIMY
BRACHA
BLIMA
SURY
YOCHEVED
PEREL
PESSY
YEHUDIS
YIDES
AHUVA
ESTY
BRUCHA
ZISSY
RIFKY
SHIFRA
BRUCHY
FRAIDY
FAIGA
IDY
TZIPORA
TZIPORAH
BREINDY
FRADY
MENUCHA
RUCHY
CHAVY
FRAIDA
TRANY

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)

Kolatch, Alfred J. The New Name Dictionary (Jonathan David Publishers, 1989)

Rosenkrantz, Linda and Pamela Redmond Satran. Beyond Sarah & Sam: An Enlightened Guide to Jewish Baby Naming (St. Martin‘s Press, 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.

And now once again, Nephele works her anagramming magic to create Your Hidden Yiddish Name–click here.

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About the author

Nephele

Nephele is the alias of an obsessive anagrammatist who for more than a decade has provided unique name makeovers for people on numerous Internet forums. Despite the popularity of Nephele’s anagrams, she is not prepared to give up her day job in an undisclosed public library in New York.
View all of Nephele's articles View all Berry Juice Bloggers

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16 Responses to “Jewish Baby Names: A Passover menu of Yiddish names”

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Elisabeth@YCCII Says:

March 29th, 2010 at 8:24 am

What fun to find this wonderful post on the first day of Passover! The store has been a flurry with people keeping up with the Cohens just in time for the holidays. I hear a lot of these names, but never have I had a great source to understand them. So many have cognates that we are familiar with.

Liv, Willa, and Mindy surprise me in this context! Love Zuzanna and Dov.

Jill Says:

March 29th, 2010 at 8:58 am

Great blog, Nephie! I loved it! My favorite names from the list are Golda (I love Goldie), Lev, Zev, and Shoshana. (I was trying to remember where I’ve heard Anshel, and I just realized it was in Yentl! Uh oh…I feel a Yentl medley coming on…”Papa, can you hear me? Papa, can you see me?….” ) 🙂

Have a good week!

stephanie_elizabeth Says:

March 29th, 2010 at 11:02 am

I love Lev, too. Shoshana is lovely, too. I was thinking about that name yesterday in church, where we sang a song called Hosanna, which is similar!
Also, Nephele, (or anyone) how does one pronounce the Tz sound? I can guess at the rest of them, but those have me stumped. I knew a girl in college name Chaya, which seems to be similar in vein to these, although I don’t know if it was legit. It was pronounced KAI-ah.

Nephele Says:

March 29th, 2010 at 11:04 am

A Zeisen Pesach! (A Sweet Passover to All!)

Thanks for commenting, Elisabeth! Yes, the names Liv, Willa, and Mindy may be a bit surprising on a list of Yiddish names, as they have more familiar meanings elsewhere. In the Jewish community Willa has a twisting route of derivations from Beyle (“beautiful, white”). Alternately, Willa could simply be a diminutive of Wilhelmina, as many Yiddish names borrowed upon German names. Mindy is another name that also may be derived from Mina (as in Wilhelmina) or derived from the Middle High German word mine (“love”). Liv is derived from Elisheve (Elizabeth), or it could also be a form of Libe (from the Middle High German word liebe (“love). The letters b, f, v, and w are often interchangeable in Yiddish. And yes, good observation about the multitude of cognates!

Jill, Thanks — and I love the name Goldie, too! And now you’ve got Yentl tunes running through my head, too! Hahaha!

— Nephele

Nephele Says:

March 29th, 2010 at 11:27 am

Thanks for commenting, Stephanie! Actually Shoshana is similar to Hosanna only in sound. Shoshana is derived from the Hebrew word shoshan (“lily” or “rose”), whereas Hosanna is derived from the Hebrew word Hoshana (a Jewish liturgical word adopted by Christians). As for pronunciations… The tz or ts sound is pronounced like the ts in the English word “fruits.” The ch or kh is pronounced like the ch in the Scottish word “loch.”

olivegreen Says:

March 29th, 2010 at 12:19 pm

I’ve never heard of Bluma but I think it’s adorable–with all the Petals and Blossoms you hear of lately, why not Bluma? Yael and Shoshana have been longtime favorites. Great post, and so appropriate for this time of year 🙂

Nephele Says:

March 29th, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Thanks, Olivegreen, and I really like the name Bluma, too. I think that’s also one of Linda Rosenkrantz’s favorites, too.

Charlotte Vera Says:

March 29th, 2010 at 4:54 pm

This is cool! My sister and her husband named their newborn daughter Zipporah and call her Zippy for short. I’ll have to tell them of the alternate spelling (Tzipi).

Nephele Says:

March 29th, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Charlotte Vera, you might also want to tell your sister that the lovely name of their newborn daughter is actually a variant of the original Tzipora. But we may see this name spelled as “Zippora” or “Zipora” because the Hebrew letter called “tsadi” (ts, tz) is sometimes transliterated into English as “z.”

babynamesrule Says:

March 29th, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Happy Passover! This was a really interesting post. Kelila and Shira were ones that really struck me. Cool!

Andrea Says:

March 29th, 2010 at 7:09 pm

I always wondered what Bielke and Shprintze’s names meant from Fiddler on the Roof. I was a villager in the high school production. The names sounded really exotic to me because there are no Jews or Yiddish-speakers to speak of in the state where I grew up. Name nut that I am I tried to find the meanings and never succeeded. Thanks!

Rachel Shugart Says:

March 31st, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Ha! I just named my daughter Tziporah. It’s been a favourite name of mine since I was little. Ever since she was born, people have been giving me grief over the “unusual” spelling… I knew I was right when I said that the “tz” was the original.

Zipporah Says:

October 24th, 2010 at 5:20 pm

My Hebrew name is Zipporah! But it’s said like Tziporah. My grandpa now sometimes calls me Tzipi

Alice Says:

January 9th, 2011 at 5:49 pm

I’m not Jewish but I really love Jewish names… the sounds they often use just sounds so beautiful (the “ch”, “yuh”, “ail” and “sh” sounds), they just roll off the tongue in a nice way.

isabel Says:

February 13th, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I’m Jewish and my Hebrew name is Ahavah, meaning love. to the person who asked about Chaya, absolutely legit. It means light :]

My favorite hebrew names for girls are Shoshana, Miriam, and Rebecca, among some others I can’t remember right now. I don’t like Zipporah, but the nn Zippy is just fabulous. I’d love to see others use it.

The most common name among kids at my family’s synagogue would have to be Leah. I know so many girls with that name and also the spelling Lea. It’s cute, I think.

Beautiful Yiddish Names | Toe Beauty Says:

September 19th, 2014 at 9:15 am

[…] Jewish Baby Names: A Passover menu of Yiddish names … – By Nephele. Yiddish names have a rich history, rooted in an older generation of Jewish people belonging to the Ashkenazic (from Germany and Eastern Europe) community…. […]

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