How to Give a Good Jewish First Name

It is common practice to give Jewish children names that are either traditionally Jewish or Israeli. More religious parents often prefer biblical names or names of deceased relatives (often biblical as well), while the less religious frequently like to give Hebrew-sounding names to connect their children with a modern Israeli identity. However, many Hebrew names that may sound appropriate to native English speakers are outdated or plainly ridiculous to modern Israeli ears. Here are a few tips to avoiding common pitfalls.


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    Obtain a Hebrew baby name guide. Relatives/friends traveling to Israel should be able to find one for you easily. Browse the names in it (of course it is helpful if you can read in Hebrew, but otherwise find a translator), and pick the ones you like.
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    Call an Israeli friend, or a friend who has spent a long time immersed in Israeli culture, and ask for his/her opinion about the names that you've chosen. Some guides may still contain outdated names, and you will want to listen to someone who knows the current trends. Giving your child a name like Yochevet is a faux-pas in secular Israel.
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    Think about how these names sound in other common languages too; we live in an international world, and if the name is completely unpronounceable in, say, both French and Spanish, your child might run into problems.
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    Consult family.
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    Stick to your proud decision and name your child!


  • The suffixes "Jr" or "III" are non-existent in Hebrew and would be viewed as completely ridiculous by most Israelis (especially "III").
  • Avoid names with the Hebrew "ch/h" sound like "Chaya" or "Haya" - they sound funny if pronounced with "H" or "ch" instead of the correct Hebrew pronunciation.
  • You may be surprised at the number of Israeli "American-sounding" names out there. A few examples are Shirley, Tom, and Rena. There are many more out there, so you could easily get the best of both worlds.
  • If the other parent is non-Jewish and prefers a standard English name, a good idea is to give the baby an additional middle name, and to let him/her choose later in life which name to use most commonly.
  • Most chances are that your child will spend at least a large part of his/her life in an English-speaking country. Do not endow him/her with a beautiful Hebrew name that can only be pronounced or spelled by Hebrew speakers.
  • When it comes to outdated names, be especially careful with the biblical ones. Some may still be trendy, especially if they are of persons that are less well-known, but many are plainly considered trite by Israelis. "Hannah", "Hava", "Sarah", and "Abraham" are four such unfortunate examples, and have rarely been given by non-religious Israelis in this and the last generation.

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Categories: Babies and Infants | Judaism