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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Picking an Israel-friendly name for your Jewish baby.

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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”).

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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?

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


7 comments:

  1. Thanks... we're only a couple of months away from having to name #4, and it's always a challenge. Kid #3 got a very "savta" type name because she's named after someone very special to me, but with the other two we at least *tried* to come up with something that was a little contemporary. we probably failed miserably:)

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    1. I love your kids' names!!! #1 I'd say is very contemporary, and I've heard it a couple of times. #2, nope, #3, nope, but who really cares if they're beautiful names and match the kid? Can't wait to find out #4. :-)

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  2. This post was included in " Haveil Havalim"
    http://beneaththewings.blogspot.co.il/2014/11/haveil-havalim-chaye-sarah-edition.html

    Naming can be complicated.... but when I worked in a library, I saw that some parents gave their kids TERRIBLE names. So if you try, and do something reasonable, it should be OK

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    1. Well, as I said above, I may have gone over the top with one of my kids' names. I may be one of those parents you met who gave TERRIBLE names. But I do absolutely love the name, it has a very holy meaning, and the name was given for a beloved close relative who died while I was pregnant. Everyone who knows us will have already guessed which kid. :-D

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  3. I loved when I was pregnant and my daughter Adele (Sarah Adele) thought "Adele" would be the best name for the baby! Before making Aliya, our top choices for our girl were Talia and Naama. When we made Aliya with 2 month old "Talia Esther" I had no idea how many Talia's and Naama's we would bump into! But I NEVER would have guessed that in our fifth year here, "Adele" would have been one of the most popular girl's names!

    I have strong positive feeling about middle names and naming after people, but the more modern names seem to be one syllable - Shai, Guy, Dror, Tom, Adi, Shir, And Israelis, and Israeli bureaucracy has a tough time with middle names. So we made aliya with a Mordechai Yehuda ("Mordechai") and two years later gave birth to "Avi" (Avraham, no middle name).

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    1. Just wondering if you would mind listing several boys & girls names that will fit in there. Thanks for the awesome blog!

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    2. @Yosefa, that is interesting. Depending on where you are in the country, I am guessing that French-sounding names (like Adele) are probably on the rise. Unless you're pronouncing it the Yiddish way, like Aidel. Yes, lots of Talis and Talias. As for middle names, see above. I actually have a "Yosefa" as one of mine, but it gets truncated on my health card so I'm "Tzivia Yo" :-)

      @Anonymous, For a boy, definitely Eli (pronounced like "eee-lie") is one of the more popular names currently. But what Yosefa says about one syllable names is also still true. Dvir seems perennially popular here, and I never heard it outside of Israel. I think it depends whether you're going to be in a chareidi type area. A Mordechai or Sarah would fit in perfectly well there, but would stand out a bit in a more "dati le'umi" (knit kippah) neighbourhood like ours.
      There are also popular variations on classic names. For a girl, "Roni" seems more popular than the older "Ronit." Ditto for "Shir" instead of "Shira." For a boy, both of my kids really like the name "Or-el," but as an English speaker, I think it sounds too much like "Oral." :-P
      Your best bet, if you're expecting and want a good Israeli name, is to pick names you LOVE that seem to fit the pattern, and let an Israeli see the list and tell you which of them are "old lady / old man" names that you should avoid unless you love them to bits.

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I'd love to hear what you have to say.

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