New Hebrew Name

I am 22 years old and starting to take my Judaism more seriously. The problem is that I don’t have a Hebrew name. I’ve asked my parents and they can’t recall what name I was given at birth. So my question is: How do I go about selecting a Hebrew name? And how does it become “official”?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Jewish custom is to give the name of a relative who has passed away. This keeps the person’s memory alive, and in a metaphysical way forms a bond between your soul and the deceased relative. This is a great honor to the deceased, because its soul can achieve an elevation based on the good deeds of the namesake. You, meanwhile, can be inspired by the good qualities of the deceased – and make a deep connection to the past.

Another idea is to pick the name of a great Jew, someone who embodied qualities like piety, kindness and leadership that you aspire to. This could be a biblical character, or someone from Jewish history. Some choose a name based on the Jewish holiday coinciding with the birth. For example, someone born at Purim-time might be named Esther or Mordechai. A girl born on Shavuot might be named Ruth, and a child born on Tisha B'Av, the Jewish day of mourning, might be named Menachem or Nechama.

Similarly, names are sometimes chosen from the Torah portion corresponding to the week of the birth. Many names and events are mentioned in each Torah portion, offering a spiritual connection between the baby and that particular biblical figure.

There is an interesting story about how the Jewish reggae star Matisyahu got his Hebrew name. His English name is Matthew Miller, and the Hebrew name he received at his Brit Milah was forgotten. In Hebrew school it was assumed to be Matisyahu because of the connection between Matthew and Matisyahu. That was fortuitous for his music career, because the original Brit certificate was later located, revealing that the actual name given was "Feivish Hershel." Imagine that on the Billboard charts.

The importance of a Hebrew name was articulated by King David, who wrote in Psalms (147:4): "He counts the numbers of the stars; He gives a name to each of them." God gives names to each star, for they are dear to Him. Like the stars, no two souls are exactly alike. Everyone has his unique function in which he excels. Everyone shines a different light.

And finally, the actual process for being given the Hebrew name is to simply begin using it. Ask others to call you by that name, and ask the rabbi to say a special blessing for you in synagogue. It's as simple as that!

More Questions

Due to limited resources, the Ask the Rabbi service is intended for Jews of little background with nowhere else to turn. People with questions in Jewish law should consult their local rabbi. For genealogy questions try Note also that this is not a homework service!

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