Rabbi Ariel Asa

What's in a name?

In Jewish tradition, a name is not just considered a convenient way to call someone.

To label an object is to define its nature. Adam, the first man had this ability when he named all the animals. With his God-given wisdom he was able to choose names that defined the nature of each creature.

For example, the king of the jungle he named the aryeh - the lion. The last two letters of aryeh are yud and heh - which are part of the name of the King of kings - God himself. The donkey on the other hand he named chamor, a word that is related to simple basic matter signifying the donkey's ordinariness and simple mind. It also is related in Hebrew to a measure of volume, signifying the heavy loads that the donkey is so well known for carrying.

Midrashic literature is full with elucidations of the significance of many names. Of course today we do not posses this same wisdom that Adam had. Nonetheless if there are significant events that happen in the life of a family or a country or special requests that we may have they can be expressed through the giving of a name. For example, Shalom to signify peace; Eliezer to recognize Divine help; or Noach to bring to mind the idea of rest.

If a child is born during a Jewish Holiday it is customary to use a name in relation to the Holiday. For a boy born on Purim, one might use Mordechai; on Chanukah, Yehuda or Mattityahu; on Pesach, Moshe, etc.

The name given to a child is eternal; choosing it carefully is a worthwhile endeavor.