Why Do Jews Choose Both Secular and Jewish Baby Names?

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About Why Do Jews Choose Both Secular and Jewish Baby Names?

Jewish baby names are complicated. Why? Well, Jewish parents not only have to choose a secular name for their babies but a Jewish one as well. Once again it’s more difficult for the chosen people. There is a new modern way of getting around this – opt to have a name that can be used for both such as: Aaron, Ezra or Levi. But, why is it that Jews have historically chosen to have 2 names for their babies? Let me tell you a story…

Before our son was born, my wife and I were trying to decide what to name him. A family member had just passed away and we were trying to figure out how to name our son after her. She wanted to name our son’s Jewish name after her but I said I wanted to name his secular name after her. My wife told me that the Jewish name is more important then the English, so I asked the woman I had spent the past four years with , “what is my Jewish name?” and she had NO idea…

There is a long Ashkenazi (Central and Eastern European Jewish) tradition of having two names. This goes back as early as the 12th century. The Ashkenazi have had a long history of being misunderstood within the gentile (non-Jewish) community. Jews lived in shtetl communities (small mostly Jewish towns) and spoke their own language in the community called Yiddish – a Germanic language written in Hebrew. My grandmother grew up in the shtetl of Lodz but did not learn to speak Polish until she was forced to while in a concentration camp so that she could communicate with the Polish guards. On the other hand her father owned a textile factory and spoke Polish well. Many Jews worked and often owned businesses, outside shtetl. The nature of the insular communities breeded mistrust and misunderstanding to the gentile community. As such many Jews who worked outside the shtetl decided to adopt a secular name so that they could be understood and their name be pronounced by the outside world.

Since Jews no longer live in the shtetl why is it that we continue to choose 2 names for our Jewish babies? Today we use our secular name for day to day use but a Jewish name is used for religious purposes. A Jewish baby will need his or her Hebrew name for when they are called to the Torah for their Bar or Bat mitzvah, for their marriage ceremony or for their name if they go to Jewish school. Having a second Jewish name is something that distinguishes the Jewish people from other faiths and reminds us of our roots and traditions. There are many different traditions and customs about Jewish baby names but the important point is that the added complication reminds us that although we are not living in the shtetl anymore we are still a people and we are still linked to our past… my name is Shmuel Avram, what’s yours??

Sam Simon writes a Jewish baby names blog – that gives more than just the usual list of names for your baby. Check out http://jewishbabynames.blogspot.com/ now and by all means leave us your comments, share some of your own naming experiences and give us some suggestions for new resources we can recommend to our community

Source: www.isnare.com

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