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Depending on what Jew you ask, quite a bit
BY HILARY WEINGARDEN fessor emeritus of psychology at State government often forced Jews where tablishing a Jewish identity,” he added.
Staff Writer University of New York at Fredonia. they lived to choose a surname. Other “It makes the point that one’s Jewish
Lawson, who is an expert in Jewish times, they took the initiative themselves identity is as important, if not more im-
Today’s culture revels in creating new onomastics, or the science of Jewish as a way of blending into the majority portant, than his American identity.”
and unusual names. names, explained that many psychologi- culture. Many Jews who become more reli-
No longer is it uncommon to hear of cal studies have proven the connection According to Benzion C. Kaganoff ’s giously observant as adults recognize
children called Apple or Nevaeh (heaven between one’s name and one’s self-con- book, “A Dictionary of Jewish Names this connection between Jewish identity
spelled backward). cept. and their History,” this trend can be dat- and names. Often, they take on their He-
In the Jewish world, where first names “If there are a bunch of names flashing ed back to the time of Alexander the brew names permanently,
like Chana, Aryeh, Moshe and Rivke on a screen, you’ll see your name first, if Great. Jewish aristocracy discarding their secular
were once staples of identification, one it’s there,” Lawson said. names.
commonly hears monikers like Stacey, When one hears a familiar There is a longstanding
Steve, Tom or Kelly these days. name it cues ideas of tradition in the Ashke-

Likewise for last names. Once, names

that person’s nazic community of nam-

l e
like Cohen, Greenberg and Blum held physical ing a child after a de-

sway. Today, more names like McDowell, charac- ceased relative as a way

C o pp
Gallagher or O’Sullivan show up on con- of memorializing the
gregations’ membership rolls. dead. This tradition
For Jews, the whole process of naming allows the child’s
the next generation has been a com-

name to connect

plicated one, made even more per-

him to his fam-
plexing by the times in which

ily heritage
Jews lived, the people from and thus, to

M w
which they were descend- Judaism.

B erg cD ivke o
ed or the dreams to “ T h e

which they aspired. hope is that
In biblical times

the chil-
Jews were known dren will

by their family re- carry on

b M R h
lationships — the strong

the son (or


daughter) of of the peo-

someone else.

e l
ple they’re
As times

r l
named after,”

changed and

said Jewish

G e a n
Jews were

educator Amy

va G a

Pincus, who
throughout named all three of

M e v
the Diaspo-

her children after

ra, they of-

deceased grandpar-

ten took ents.

more secu- “We wouldn’t have

thought to have done it any

ing names.

N h
other way,” she added. “Our
Sometimes heritage and tradition are so

A e O
rulers made much of who we are and names

C Ary
them take sur- are so important.”
names. Jews fre- One way in which Jews compensate
quently found for using secular names is through the
themselves with sec- tradition of giving two names — one sec-
ular names for every- Chronicle art by Jane Muder adopted ular, the other Hebrew. This tradition
day life and Hebrew G r e e k has existed for hundreds of years, even
names for synagogue life. names, and much before the destruction of the Second
In the last century, American of the Jewish majority Temple, according to Kaganoff.
Jews frequently changed their names took on Aramaic names. However, giving dual names may not
to get ahead in business or avoid dis- teris- This phenomenon occurred again dur- be a truly effective way of strengthening
crimination. tics, personality, interests, and other key ing the major periods of Jewish immi- a child’s Jewish identity. In many places,
And even more recently, with the ex- elements of that person’s identity. gration to the United States. Jewish im- Hebrew names are used only when one
plosion of intermarriage, Jews have Judaism understands this connection migrants, wanting to join American cul- is called to the Torah, or on written doc-
names that don’t sound Jewish at all. between names and identity, Kripper ture, adopted secular names that also uments such as a ketubah. But secular
With so many forces at work in the said. In fact, the second book of the protected them from anti-Semitism. names are used all the time. The impor-
Jewish world, is there still something to Torah, Exodus, is called Shemot, or Today, however, there is less need to tance of secular identity is thus rein-
be said for traditional names? names, in Hebrew. Exodus begins with a blend into a greater society. Ethnic forced through names far more often
Perhaps, some people say. history of the Jewish people, outlining groups take pride in their distinct cus- than Jewish identity.
“Having a Jewish name is a way of dis- the family tree through names. toms and embrace the cultural points “All three of our children have names
tinguishing yourself instead of becoming At Passover seders, participants men- that differentiate them from others, that are the same in English and in He-
immersed into the anonymity of secular tion that the Jews in Egypt, despite liv- rather than hide them. Active Black, brew, so that they have one identity,”
society,” said Rabbi Daniel Kripper, spir- ing in a foreign land, did not adopt Jewish, Latino, Hindu, Muslim, and gay said Pincus. “It’s much easier to feel
itual leader of Adat Shalom in Fox Egyptian names, but rather kept their and lesbian groups can be found on col- connected if you have one identity. It
Chapel. “If you have a Jewish name, you original names. lege campuses and in communities was important to us that there was a real
are rooted in certain traditions, and peo- “The fact that they didn’t change their across the nation. sense of continuity in their names.”
ple are looking for that.” names meant that they stayed Jewish,” “The term ‘melting pot’ doesn’t mean
That is true in part because names are Kripper said. “The idea is that they were anything today,” Kripper said. “People (Hilary Weingarden can be reached at
integral to people’s perceptions of them- able to preserve their tradition through are looking for ways of preserving their
selves and others. their names.” identity in the midst of a mass, secular
“The name is part of the identity. It’s a Yet throughout history and to this day, society.”
major part,” said Edwin D. Lawson, pro- Jews have adopted secular names. The “Giving a Jewish name is a way of es-