Quick! Think of the first three Hebrew names that come to mind.
Maybe Sara? Rivka? Or, for a boy, Aharon or Daniel? Uri or Riva?
Lots of Jews outside of Israel are looking for either an edgier or more contemporary Israeli name, like Eitan or Ma’ayan, Alon or Ariel (for a girl or boy), Gil or Carmi.
Having had a lot of Jewish kids (okay, four) of my own, I thought I knew a lot about Hebrew and Jewish names. And I was pleased that we had picked names that would “fit in,” Naomi (NR) and Gavriel (GZ), both slightly traditional but modern enough (I thought).
Turns out I know nothing.
Nothing in North America could have prepared me for the deluge of real, modern Israeli names.
The most popular name in GZ’s class is “Nehorai” (נְהוֹרַאי) a name I had never, ever heard before.Three parents out of 28, six years ago, picked this as the best (if not the most unique) name for their newborn son. Other highlights include Shoham, Shon and Nevo.
In NR’s class, there’s a Geffen, Tzofia, Shilat (it’s short for “Shiviti Hashem Lenegdi Tamid”) and Lotem.
Some of the names are at least a little familiar. In NR’s class, there are two “Shiras,” plus a “Shir” and a “Shir-El.” There is the usual sprinkling of Hodayas (pronounced without the initial “H”) – somebody told me that every Sefardi family needs at least one Hodaya, which seems pretty universally true – and Hilas (ditto – it sounds like “ee-LA”).
If you’re naming your kid with an eye to aliyah, or spending time in Israel, bear in mind that even if you give a name that’s trendy and Israeli-sounding in North America, your kid may sound like a refugee from an older generation once you arrive.
Great, classic Hebrew names like Tzipporah, Devorah, Rachel, Rina, Riva, Uri and Leora are considered pretty old-fashioned these days. And yes, even Naomi and Gavriel. They’re all beautiful names, but they sound more like somebody’s saba and savta than like kids running around in a playground in 2014.
By the way, if you’re thinking of giving a middle name… well, just keep it under wraps. Nothing confuses Israelis like a middle name (well, okay, maybe the English language, on street signs). If they’re polite, they’ll ask you which name you prefer; otherwise, they’ll just assume you prefer to use the middle name.
Due to a bureaucratic something, I ended up with two middle names, which means that whenever I go to the doctor, I show up on the list of appointments simply as “Mary,” which isn’t any of my names. (It’s “Miriam,” but it gets cut off by the computer every single time.)
At least this is a name they can pronounce. Some of the “Israeli” names my kids and their teachers are having to learn aren’t Hebrew at all. NR has a girl named “Kalkidan” in her class, and last year, GZ had two “Beranu”s and a “Djalacho” in his gan.
These are Ethiopian names, and they are beautiful, but because of the difficulties in transcribing Amharic, I’m afraid many of them come out kind of garbled.
At least with a classic Hebrew name, even if it’s not entirely au courant, you can be certain it’ll be pronounced properly.
And if you move in Haredi circles, you may be just fine with a classic Tanach-style name like Sara or Tziporah, Yerachmiel or Moshe. You may even be able to get away with a middle name, if only to differentiate little Moshe from the four other Moisheles in his class.
What it comes down to is… pick a name that you love. Pick a name your friends and his (or her) teachers will be able to pronounce. Pick a name that won’t raise your family’s eyebrows too, too high. (I may have gone over the top with one of my kids’ names in this department… but I’m not saying which kid.)
Whatever you pick, be prepared to be surprised if you end up in Israel. This may be the land of the Bible, but fashions in names here come and go just as quickly as they do elsewhere – if not faster. Happily, a beautiful name will be beautiful forever, even if it’s not the most fashion-forward.
Out of curiosity, as I was putting the kids to bed tonight, I asked them what their favourite Hebrew names were. NR said, “Renana” (רְנָנָה, not to be confused with the city of רעננה), which means “joyous song.” And GZ? He knew his answer right away, too. “Gavriel.”
So one out of two ain’t bad, right?