I have a friend who grew up with a pretty generic name. It was one of those popular names of the generation with no particular meaning attached to it, no unique hopes or aspirations. As she progressed along her Jewish journey over the last four years, she was continually being asked, “What’s your Hebrew name?” After conferring with family members and checking all accessible family records, she concluded that, along with most of her relatives, she never received one.

Initially that didn’t seem like a big deal. Although she didn’t love her name – it also conjured up all the jarring ways in which she had been judged unfavorably or misunderstood throughout her childhood and into her adult life as well – she just accepted her name as an unchanging part of her reality.

But was it? Just before Rosh Hashanah a mutual friend referred her to a local Rebbetzin who makes a study of the meaning and power of our Jewish name. After a long and intimate conversation, she suggested the name Shira, a name that seems to reflect a spontaneous outburst of song and embodies the joy and openness and desire to connect to the Almighty that was so definitive of my friend.

After doing a little Torah “research”, she decided to take this name or, as she says more accurately, “the name took her.”

And in that moment, something spectacular and unexpected occurred. Her whole life changed. All the ways that her old self had been constricted by unfulfilled familial expectations, all the destructive and critical internal dialogue that had been her constant companion, all the dictates of society that had ruled her behavior vanished.

Those limitations were for someone else, for a person with a different name. They simply did NOT apply to Shira.

Shira could soar. Shira could fly. Shira could feel the gift of unconditional love offered to her by the members of her new community and by her blossoming relationship with the Almighty. It wasn’t just a name change; it was a transformation.

She is opening herself up to a new world, a world of depth and breadth and meaning. And all of us who are her friends are privileged to take this journey with her. Now she feels like the possibilities are endless.

I forgot to mention that Shira is not some yet unformed 18-year-old. Nor is she a mid-30’s young professional. She’s not even what’s considered middle-aged. Shira is turning 75, please God. As she herself says, she is living proof that you are never too old to change.

And this isn’t just a mild change. This is a whole uprooting. She is constantly learning and growing and koshering her kitchen and keeping Shabbos and, well it’s just a big wow.

It didn’t start with the name change. The name change was the natural outgrowth of her studies and her personal evolution. But the name change resulted in dramatic and unexpected growth, in the introduction of new freedoms and new opportunities.

As Shira says, she feels like she has come home. And she is constantly appreciative of the gifts she has been given, never taking anything for granted. The Almighty seems to have plucked her out of her previous life and identity into this new world. But our friend Shira was able to see the possibilities placed in front of her and take full advantage of them. And we, her friends, are all the richer for it.

They say “It’s all in the name.” Sometimes that’s really true.