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In the Bible

Biblical proper names, together with proper names in Old South Arabic, Canaanite (East-or Proto-Canaanite, Ugaritic, and Phoenician), Old Aramaic, Akkadian, and – with some reservations – Old Egyptian, comprise one division of the Semitic onomasticon. Within this division, the Hebrew names have particularly archaic traits. In this respect they are connected with Old South Arabic, East-or Proto-Canaanite, and Ugaritic proper names, and are distinguished from the Akkadian and Old Egyptian names, whose development led them away from the early Semitic type of naming (cf. Stamm, in Fourth World Congress…, 141–7).

The most important source for Hebrew proper names is the Bible. In addition to individual proper names found throughout the Bible, biblical genealogies from early and late times also offer numerous examples. Other sources of Hebrew names are Palestinian inscriptions (ostraca and seals), the Elephantine Papyri, and Babylonian clay tablets from the Persian period.

In Hebrew, as in old Semitic generally, two forms of proper names are to be distinguished: propositional names and epithetic names. Propositional names can be classified as either verbal or nominal sentences. A separate group is constituted by the very numerous short names, which cannot be taken into consideration here (see Noth, in bibl., p. 36ff.).

In addition to these formal criteria, another distinction, relating more to content, is that between theophoric and secular proper names.

The predicate of the (theophoric) verbal propositional names is generally in the perfect or imperfect tense. In contrast to the Akkadian, the use of the imperative mood, directed either to the divinity or to the environment, is rare. Late names such as עֲשִׂיאֵל (Asiel, "Do it, O God!") and חֲזִיאֵל (Haziel, "Look, O God!") may be considered as belonging to the former, and רְאוּבֵן (Reuben, "See, a son!"; cf. also Noth, in bibl., p. 32, and Stamm, op. cit., p. 142), as belonging to the latter.

In the perfect-tense names the "predicate-subject" type (e.g., נְתַנְאֵל, Nethanel) is, according to Hebrew syntax, on the whole more frequent than the inverse, i.e., "subject-predicate" (e.g., אֶלְנָתָן, Elnathan; cf. Noth, in bibl., pp. 20–21). The meaning of these names is expressed by the use of the past tense: they signify thanksgiving for an act of charity bestowed by the divine (e.g., "God has given").

In names formed with the imperfect tense, the "subject-predicate" type is hardly represented. This type appears only in the later monarchical and the post-Exilic periods (יְהוֹיָכִין, Jehoiachin; cf. Noth, in bibl., p. 28). On the other hand, the "predicate-subject" type is much more frequent (יְכוֹנְיָה, Jechoniah). Certain of the oldest proper names are of this type, some appearing as abridged forms not containing the word אֵל of the complete form. Examples of these are יִצְחָק (Isaac), יַעקׂב (Jacob), יִשְׂראֵל (Israel), יוֹסֵף (Joseph), and יְרַחְמְאֵל (Jerahmeel). This type occurs more often in the periods of Moses and the Judges. It becomes scarcer during the Davidic period, almost disappearing, but regaining favor shortly before the Exile and in post-Exilic times (cf. Noth, loc. cit.).

As the Hebrew imperfect tense is both preterit and jussive in character, its meaning in proper names is disputed. Noth, probably because he believed that the perfect expresses the past tense unequivocally, preferred the jussive interpretation for the imperfect, as expressing a wish. Several proper names, which certainly contain such wishes, e.g., יְחִיָּה, יְחִיאֵל (Jehiel, Jehiah, "may he live, O God/yhwh!"), יוֹסֵף (Joseph, "may he [God] add!"), and יֶחְדְּיָהוּ, יַחְדִּיאֵל (Jahdiel, Jehdeiah, "may he rejoice, O God/yhwh!"), can be quoted in support of this theory. In opposition to it, however, there are to be found names which are vocalized not as jussive forms but as statements, such as אֶלְיָקִים (Eliakim, "God had made [the deceased] stand up again"), אֶלְיָּשִׁיב (Eliashib, "God has brought back [the deceased]"), and יָעִיר (Jair, "He has protected"; for the translation of this name on the basis of the Ugaritic and Hebrew (Deut. 32:11a; Job 8:6b; root ʿyr/ʿwr), see Stamm, in: Studies … B. Landsberger…, p. 421a). It should, therefore, be taken into account that the imperfect tense should be rendered in proper names, as in general usage, sometimes as a statement, sometimes as a wish. It is not always easy to decide which of these it is, and the subject warrants further investigation. It appears that the past tense is to be preferred for the oldest names, whereas in the case of the later names the jussive is also to be considered (cf. Stamm, ibid., pp. 414–5; Stamm, in: Fourth World Congress…, p. 142).

The content of theophoric propositional names is that the divinity: (1) has given, created/made, or added the child named; (2) has granted, helped, saved, and had mercy, spared, restored justice, and cured, or that it may do so. Whereas in Akkadian the content of groups 1 and 2 both refer to the child named, insofar as it is not only the object of divine gift and creation but also of mercy and salvation (cf. J.J. Stamm, Die akkadische Namesgebung (1939), 23ff.), this is not the case in Hebrew. Here, naturally, the content of group 1 also refers to the child; however, the content of group 2 refers to the parents. They are the ones whose prayer was granted or to whom justice was done. This is explained in the interpretation of names in the Bible (Gen. 29:31–30:24; Ex. 2:10, 22; i Sam. 1:27–28). This may well have been the case originally, while the situation in Akkadian (and in Egyptian) may represent a modernization which might have taken place under the influence of liturgical literature.

Such a modernization can also be seen in the fact that in Akkadian and Egyptian there exist propositional names with a suffix indicating the child named. Thus there are in Akkadian (for Egyptian, see J.J. Stamm, in: Die Welt des Orients (1955), 111–9), besides Išme-d Adad ("Adad has hearkened"), the forms Ili-išmeanni ("My God has hearkened to me") and Ištar-išmēšu ("Ishtar has hearkened to him"; cf. also Stamm, in: Fourth World Congress…, 145). Hebrew, on the other hand, has nothing but נְתַנְיָה (וּ),נְתַנְאֵל (Nethanel, Nethaniah(u), "God/yhwh has given") and שְׁמַעְיָה (וּ)יִשְׁמָעֵאל (Ishmael, Shemaiah(u), "God/yhwh has granted"). This concise, coined form dominates also in corresponding names in Old South Arabic, and with a few exceptions, also in Ugaritic-Canaanite (cf. Stamm, in: Fourth World Congress…, pp. 143–4).

In (theophoric) nominal propositional names, the first remarkable trait is that, unlike the Akkadian, those names containing a participle are scarce and of rather late origin. The only biblical examples are: מְשֵׁיזַבְאֵל (Meshezabel), מְשֵׁיזַבְאֵל (Mehetabel), מַהֲלַלְאֵל (Mahalalel),

((מְשֶׁלֶמְיָה(וּ (Meshelemiah(u)). Very common, on the contrary, are the so-called names of reliance, consisting of a theophoric element and an appellative, such as (אלִיָּה(וּ (Elijah(u), "yhwh is my God") and עֻזִּיָּה(וּ), עֻזִּיאֵל (Uzziel, Uzziah(u), "God is my strength"). In these, the possessive "my" can refer both to the giver of the name and to its bearer. It expresses a personal utterance which the father or mother pronounces at first for the child, until the child is able to make it his own. Besides the forms containing the suffix of the first person singular there are also forms which are suffixless and, therefore, do not contain any reference to the speaker. Examples of the latter are יוֹאָב (Joab), יוֹאָח (Joah), יוֹאֵל (Joel), יוֹעֶזֶר (Joezer) ("yhwh is father/ brother/God/help"). Again, in contrast to Akkadian and Egyptian, there are no forms with a suffix of the third person singular ("YHWH is his/her father"). The suffix of the first person plural occurs only in the cry for salvation, which later became a name, עִמָּנוּאֵל (Immanuel), and in the messianic name, ה׳ צִדְקֵנוּ (Jer. 23:6).

Theophoric epithetic names are not particularly common in Hebrew, a fact which is related to the absence of the following type, common in Akkadian and Egyptian: "son/daughter of divinity X." The most popular names in this category are those constructed with עֶבֶד (ʿeved, "slave"), e.g., עַבְדִּיאֵל (Abdiel, "God's slave") and (עׂבַדְיָה(וּ (Obadiah(u), "[small] slave of yhwh"; cf. further Noth, in bibl., pp. 135–9).

In the above-mentioned name groups, the most frequently occurring theophoric elements are אֵל (ʾel) and the tetragrammaton, the latter always used in abridged form, namely, יְהוֹ (yeho) and יוֹ (yo) at the beginning, יָהוּ (yahu) and יָה (yah) at the end, of the word. The first personal name that was definitely constructed with the tetragrammaton is יְהוֹׂשֻעַ (Joshua). The name of Moses' mother, יוֹכֶבֶד (Jochebed), is more ancient, but it is extremely questionable if it really contains the biblical divine name; as for יְהוּדָה (Judah), it is certain that it does not contain the divine name. From the period of the Judges, five personal names belonging to this group, יוֹאָׂש (Joash), יוֹתָם (Jotham), (מִיכָיָה(ו (Micaiah(u), יְהוֹנָתָן (Jonathan), and יוֹאֵל (Joel) should be mentioned. During the monarchical period, names of this group became frequent and dominant and even retained their lasting predominance – together with those containing the theophoric אֵל (ʾel) – afterward. אֵל (ʾel) is common in personal names up to the beginning of the monarchical period, during which time it fell into almost complete disuse, reappearing again and becoming more frequent from the seventh century onward, and remaining common after the Exile (see Gray, in bibl., pp. 166ff.; Noth, in bibl., pp. 82ff.).

With other old Semitic personal names, especially South Arabic and Proto-or East-Canaanite, Hebrew names have in common the particularity that terms of kinship can take the place of the theophoric element. These are terms like אָב (ʾav, "father"), אָח (ʾaḥ, "brother"), and עָם (ʿam, "paternal uncle"), thus, for instance, אֲבִירָם (Abiram), אֲחִיטוּב (Ahitub), and עַמְרָם (Amram; for other examples, see Noth, in bibl., pp. 66ff.; Stamm, in: StudiesB. Landsberger…, pp. 416ff.). These names have their origin in the early Semitic and nomadic conceptions of tribal and clan structure, according to which deceased relatives enjoyed the divine privilege of being worshiped. In Israel, after the Conquest, this belief became extinct. If corresponding names continued to be used, this was undoubtedly based on the supposition that terms denoting kinship could be assimilated to yhwh. However, not all of these originally had a theophoric meaning. There exist those in which אָב (ʾav), אָח (ʾaḥ), and עָם (ʿam) designate the (deceased) father, brother, or uncle of the one named. These are the so-called substitute names (see below). (On the problem of distinguishing these secular names from the theophoric, see Stamm, in: StudiesB. Landsberger…, p. 418.)

Other words, some of which are very ancient, which can be used in a theophoric sense in names are צוּר (Ẓur, "Rock"), שַׁדַּי (shaddai, "the Almighty"), אָדׂן (ʾadon, "Lord"), בַּעַל (baʿal, "Possessor/Lord"), and מֶלֶךְ (melekh, "king"; cf. Noth, in bibl., pp. 114ff.).

Secular epithetic names have in Hebrew, as in related languages – particularly Akkadian and Egyptian, the most diverse and disparate contents. These retain the day of birth (חַגַּי, Haggai, "he who was born on the festival"), or the origin (יְהוּדִי, Jehudi, "the Judean"), or the position within the family (בְּכוֹרַת, Becorath, "firstborn"). Other proper names give expression either to the relationship between the child and his parents, or to their joy, such as יְדִידָה (Jedidah, "the loved one") and שִׁמְשׁוֹן (Samson, "little sun"). Also frequent are names given on the basis of particularly distinctive physical traits or flaws, e.g., לָבָן/לִבְנִי (Laban/Libni, "white," probably after the color of the skin, particularly of the face), גָּדוֹל ("tall"; a proper name from Elephantine), הַקָּטָן/צוּעָר (Hakkatan/Zuar, "[the] small one"), בַּרְזִלַּי (Barzillai, "as hard as iron"), and קׂרַח/קָרֵחַ (Kareah/Korah, "the bald headed"; for other examples see Noth, in bibl., pp. 221ff.). In addition, names of animals and plants are not infrequent as proper names.

Two other groups of names which should be mentioned specially are substitute names, names in which expression is given, in some manner, to the view that the bearer of the name reincarnates a deceased relative, or that the latter has returned to life in, or through, the former, and women's names. This is an ancient idea which has its roots in the conception of tribal and clan structure and which does not presuppose the belief in the transmigration of souls. Parallel forms to this category of proper names can be found in many peoples; among the Semitic peoples they are particularly numerous with the Babylonians and the Egyptians.

Most groups which occur in other proper names can be found also among the substitute names. Only a few examples of each will be given here (for further illustration of the subject see Stamm, in: StudiesB. Landsberger…, 213–24): verbal proposition (secular): יָשָׁבְעָם (Jashobeam, "the uncle has come back"), יָשׁוּב (Jashub, "he [the deceased] has returned"); verbal proposition (theophoric): אֶלְיָקִים (Eliakim), אֶלְיָשִׁיב (Eliashib), and יָעיר (Jair, see above); nominal proposition: אֲבִירָם (Abiram), עַמְרָם (Amram; "the father/uncle is great"), and אֲבִיהוּד (Abihud), אֲחִיהוּד (Ahihud), עַמִּיהוּד (Ammihud; "my father/brother/uncle is splendor"). In these proper names the praise of the deceased simultaneously keeps his memory alive.

A form which cannot be found outside this category of substitute names is represented by those uttering, in the sense of a complaint, the quest after the deceased, thus אִיכָבוֹד (Ichabod) and אֵהוּד (Ehud; "where is the glory?"), also אִיזֶבֶל (Jezebel; "where is nobility?"), and אִיעֶזֶר (Iezer; "where is help?"). The interrogative particle ai/e/i, used in all these names, may also be discerned in אִיּוֹב (Job; "where is the father?").

In the epithetic names, the child either simply bears the epithet of the relative whom he replaces, thus אַחְאָב (Ahab; "father's brother"), or is named after the function which devolves to him as substitute, מְשֻׁלָּם (Meshullam, "the replaced"), מְנַחֵם (Menahem, "one that consoles"), and מְנַשֶּׁה (Manasseh, "he who makes forget").

As for women's names, the theophoric ones are relatively scarce. Much more frequent are the secular ones, i.e., designations based on the time of birth, or the origin of the bearer (of the name), on a characteristic physical or spiritual quality, or the relationship with the parents. Names of jewels, plants, and animals are also used as women's names (for details, see Stamm, in: vts, 16, where the question as to the reasons for the relative scarceness of theophoric women's names also is raised).

[Johann Jakob Stamm]

Hypocoristica, or shortened names, were common, and were formed in various ways (see Noth, Personennamen, 36–41). Very common, especially in later times, was the formation qattūl, as in זַכּוּר (Zakkur) for זְכַרְיָה (Zechariah), חַשּוּב for נַחוּם, חֲשַׁבְיָה for נְחֶמְיָה, etc. At Elephantine we even find הצול, Haẓẓūl, for הצליה and יחמול, Yaḥmūl, for יחמליה, so that the Elephantine name גדול, which was interpreted above as the adjective gadol, "large," is more probably to be read Gaddūl asa hypocoristicon of גֶּדַלְיָה, Gedaliah.

[Harold Louis Ginsberg]

In the Talmud

Insofar as names are concerned the talmudic literature covers a period of some 700 years, from the time of Simeon the Just (c. 200 b.c.e.) to 500 c.e. A distinction must be made between fact and homiletical propaganda. Thus, the often repeated statement giving one of the causes of the deliverance of the Children of Israel from bondage as "they did not change their names" (e.g., Lev. R. 32:5) is certainly to be viewed as a homily appealing for the retention or giving of Hebrew names, in view of the prevalent tendency of adopting foreign names. It is in this light that the interesting equivalents, Rofe (Rufus?) for Judah, Luliani (Julianus?) for Reuben, Lestim (Justus?) for Joseph, and Aleksandri for Benjamin, quoted there are to be regarded. Zunz, somewhat casuistically, suggests that these passages are to be understood as referring specifically to the change from a Hebrew name already given to a gentile name, a custom which was disapproved of as a sign of deliberate assimilation, but not to the initial granting of non-Jewish names. To be regarded in a similar light is the Targum to Amos 6:1 which renders nekuvei reshit ha-goyim, "they give their children the same names as do gentiles." The Talmud states only that "the majority of Jews in the Diaspora have the same names as the gentiles" (Git. 11b; in Babylonia only names of idols were avoided – Git. 11a; the name Tammuza (Judah b. Tammuza; tj, Meg. 4:5, 75b) is not evidence of the adoption of the name of the god Tammuz (= Adonis), since Tammuz had already become Hebraized as the name of the Hebrew month, cf. Dosa b. Tevet, Song R. 7:8). However, the evidence of the widespread use of non-Jewish names also in Ereẓ Israel is too obvious to be overlooked.

All the characteristics and permutations of names which are found in later generations are found among the names of the rabbis. Examples of almost every type of nomenclature can be found in the short list of the *zugot (including their fathers) as they appear in the first chapter of Avot. They include purely traditional biblical names, such as Simeon (see later), Joshua, and Judah; Hebrew names which are not those of biblical worthies, though they occur there, such as Hillel, Gamliel, Johanan, and Joezer; purely Greek names such as Antigonus (in the generation immediately after Alexander the Great; cogent evidence of the rapidity of the social assimilation in nomenclature) and Avtalyon; and Aramaized forms of Hebrew names, such as Yose (twice) for Joseph, Tabbai (probably for Tobiah), and what appears to be a purely Aramaic name, Nittai. Of special interest are purely Hebrew names which do not occur in the Bible, such as Perahyah and (probably) Shetaḥ.

With few exceptions, all other names fall into those categories. The only forms missing are Greek names which are an obvious Grecization of Hebrew names, such as Dositheus for Nethanel or Jonathan, and purely Roman names, such as Julianus (Lulianus). There are fathers with non-Hebrew names whose sons have Hebrew names, such as Eliezer b. Hyrcanus, as there is the reverse, such as Dostai (Dositheus) b. Judah. Of interest are the names of the five sons of R. Yose b. Ḥalafta, given as Ishmael, Eleazar, Ḥalafta, Abtilus, and Menahem (Shab. 118b). Three (Ishmael, Eleazar, and Menahem; for Ishmael see below) have purely biblical names; Ḥalafta has an Aramaic name, like his grandfather (cf. Gen. R. 37:7, where R. Yose explicitly refers to the custom of giving a child the nameof "our fathers," and the eight other examples in the Talmud, of which the best known are the dynasty of Hillel, the son of Eliezer b. Hyrcanus (Men. 35a), and R. Ishmael; this custom is thought to have been derived from the Greeks – L. Loew, Beitraege zur jued. Alterskunde, 2, 9b); and the fifth Abtilus, has a Greek name (probably a corruption of Εὑπολεηος). Another passage (tj, Yev. 1:1) gives the names as Ishmael, Eleazar (Lazar), Menahem, Ḥalafta, and Avdimos (Eudymos) and asks about another son of Yose called Vardimon; the Talmud explains that Vardimon is identical with Menahem, but he was so called because "his face was like [domeh] a rose [vered]." This is a homiletical interpretation similar to that which makes of Tiberias Tovah Re'iyyatah ("of goodly appearance"; Meg. 6a). These names raise the interesting question whether it was not the custom to have two names, one Semitic (Hebrew or Aramaic) and one Greek, as was the case with Hasmonean rulers such as John (Johanan) Hyrcanus and Salome Alexandra, and whether that is not the simple explanation of the names of the five sons of Mattathias: "Johanan called Gaddis, Simeon called Thassi, Judas called Maccabeus, Eleazar called Avarah, and Jonathan called Apphus" (i Macc. 2:2).

It is equally natural that there were names which were avoided because of their unhappy associations, and this is explicitly stated. The Talmud interprets the verse "and the name of the wicked shall rot" (Prov. 10:7) to the effect that "none name their children after them" and points to the grim example of a child being given the name of *Doeg, whose mother would every day give the increase in his weight in gold to the Temple, yet "when the enemy prevailed she slaughtered and ate him" and, because of the unfortunate choice of the name of a wicked person, "see what happened to him" (Yoma 38b). Similarly the Midrash states, "Have you ever heard that a man should call his son Pharaoh, or Sisera or Sennacherib? But (one does give the name) Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Reuben, Simeon, Levi or Judah" (Gen. R. 49:1), and in general it is stated that the name of a person determines his destiny (Ber. 7b).

In respect to this, the repeated name of Ishmael raises a difficulty. R. Yose (Gen. R. 71:3) divides names into four categories according to their beauty or ugliness as well as according to their bearers' deeds and gives Ishmael as an example of one whose "name was beautiful but his actions ugly." How then is this name so frequently found? The tosafot (loc. cit.) explain that it was only because, according to rabbinic tradition, he repented; and because of the bad association of the names they alter the name of Absalom, the father of Hanan the Judge (Ket. 13:1), to Avishalom (because Absalom "has no portion in the world to come" (Sanh. 103b)) and Shebna to Shechna (Tos. Yoma 38b; Ket. 104b).

By the same token, there are homilies as to the efficacy and desirability of giving names after those of biblical worthies. To the above quoted passage that fathers call their children Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, there is the positive injunction "One should ever examine names, to give his son a name worthy for him to become a righteous man, for sometimes the name is a contributory factor for good as for evil" (Tanḥ. Ha'azinu 7). Ephraim is praised that "the best of my sons shall be called after thee" (Lev. R. 3:2). On the contemporary plane there are quoted cases of a woman in gratitude calling her child after Nathan ha-Bavli because he had saved its life (Shab. 134a) and children called Eleazar after Eleazar b. Simeon because of a similar boon (bm 84b).

Despite that fact, however, there is one puzzling phenomenon, namely, the complete absence of names which one would expect. Not a single rabbi is known by the name of Moses (the name occurs only once in the whole talmudic literature as borne by the father-in-law of a certain scholar Huna – BB 174b, Ar. 23a), Abraham, Israel, David, or Solomon. Aaron is borne by only two amoraim. Of the sons of Jacob, a decided preference is given to Simeon and Judah, and among the amoraim to Levi and Joseph (there are no tannaim called Joseph and only two called Levi though, as stated, the Aramaized form Yose is common). Dan, Gad, and Asher do not occur at all, the others only rarely. (Steinschneider draws attention to a similar phenomenon among the Jews in Arabic-speaking countries.) A similar position exists with regard to the names of the prophets. Of the 15 prophets, Jeremiah, the name of one tanna, appears to have become popular in the amoraic period, and only one amora is known by the name of Ezekiel. Nahumand Jonah are of greater frequency, but the former seems to be in a class by itself, since the frequent occurrence of other names of the same root, Nahman, Tanhum, Tanhuma, suggests that it was the root meaning "comfort" which decided its choice. Similarly Jonah, which occurs only among the amoraim, may have been influenced by the many amoraic aggadot (cf. Gen. R. 33:6) which identified the dove (Jonah) with Israel. Zechariah is the only name which occurs with any frequency (three tannaim and two amoraim) and Haggai (and Hagga). Isaiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Malachi are not found at all.

It is specifically mentioned (arn 12) that humans were not given the names of angels, and in fact such names as Raphael and Gabriel are not found.

Lastly, attention should be drawn to a passage in Pesahim113b to the effect that Joseph of Huẓal is identical, inter alia, with Issi, the son of Gur Aryeh, who is also named Issi b. Judah. The alternatives Judah and Gur Aryeh seem to be the only example known of the custom widely prevalent in later ages to give double or alternative names on the basis of Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33: "Judah Aryeh." "Naphtali Zevi," "Benjamin Ze'ev," and "Joseph Bekhor Shor."

On the other hand, there is clear evidence of the use of different names. In Gittin 34b there is a case mentioned of a woman in Babylonia known in one place as Miriam and in another as Sarah, and of a query sent from the Diaspora to Rabban Gamliel as to the procedure to be adopted with regard to the name to be inserted on a bill of divorce in the case of a man who came from Palestine where he was known as Joseph but in Babylonia (probably) as Johanan. The fact that the vice versa is mentioned suggests that this case is also one of "anonymous names."

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]

Medieval Period and Establishment of Surnames

Variations in onomastic styles – generally a useful index of cultural diversity and change – are especially prominent in Jewish history. As the Jews moved from area to area, through many linguistic milieus, they were affected, in varying degrees, by the patterns of nomenclature in the societies around them. The tendency toward adoption of names in vogue with the non-Jewish majority – discernible throughout the Middle Ages – accelerated during the late 18th and 19th centuries with intensification of the process of emancipation. As modern Jews reaped the benefits of this emancipation, they increasingly imitated the mores of their neighbors, appellations included. Governments in some instances furthered this tendency by rewarding or even legislating the adoption of European forenames and family names. The 20th century – witness to both a deepening of the thrust toward integration of the Jews into Western society as well as repudiation of such integration – has seen rapid changes in Jewish name styles. While the Jews of the Americas and Western Europe have continued to pursue onomastic assimilation, their brethren in Israel have revived the old Hebrew nomenclature and created a new one.

Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, Jews retained a preference for Hebrew forenames. In most cases these names were readily adaptable to the language of the surrounding society. Thus, in the Arab world, Abraham became Ibrahīm and David, Dāwud. In the Greek milieu, Joseph became Iosiph (ʾΙωσηĭφ) and Shemariah, Samargia, while in the Latin West, Moses (Moshe) became Moyses and Ḥayyim, Hagin. Often Jews bore Hebrew names along with related, but not identical, non-Hebrew appellations, e.g., Eleazar-Manṣūr, Yefet-Ḥasan, Eliakim-Anastasios, Mattathia-Dieudonné, Jehiel-Vivant, Ḥayyim-Vital. Some designations popular in non-Jewish circles were taken over by Jews with no regard for Hebrew equivalence. In general, there was a greater likelihood of a non-Hebrew given name among the female members of the community. The range of non-Hebrew names adopted was broader and the percentage of women bearing such designations was higher than among the male Jewish population. Popular female forenames included Masʿūda and Sultāna (Arabic); Anastassu, Cali, and Zoe (Greek); Angélique, Fleurette, and Précieuse (French); Esperanza and Gracia (Spanish). Conversion into and out of the Jewish community was almost always accompanied by a symbolic change of name. The most common names for those entering the Jewish faith were Abraham and Sarah. Jews leaving their heritage took new names as well. In the Christian world, for example, designations such as Paul, Christian, and Mary were widespread, as was adoption of the names of prominent ecclesiastical or secular sponsors.

Designations appended to the given name, to identify more clearly the individual, developed already during antiquity. This tendency grew more marked throughout the Middle Ages. The most traditional of these surnames was the patronym, readily adapted from the Hebrew "ben" to the Arabic "ibn" and the French "fils." A special Arabic usage was the identification of the father by his firstborn son, the "abū" designation. In most areas a favored style of byname was that which derived from locale, in some cases the bearer's birthplace and others his adult residence. In the Arab world prominent examples are R. Isaac Alfasi and R. Saadiah al-Fayyumi. The great 13th-century leader of French Jewry was known both by the Hebrew R. Jehiel of Paris and by the French Vivant of Meaux, the latter his birthplace and the former the locus of his adult activities. Surnames derived from locale became particularly widespread in the wake of the periodic expulsions suffered by medieval Jewry. Both for ease of identification and out of nostalgia, Jews chose names that recalled their earlier homes. Thus, for example, in Turkish Jewry subsequent to 1492 surnames such as De Leon, D'Alvo, Zamora, and Toledano abounded. Another source of bynames was occupation. Medicine, printing, masonry, tailoring, dyeing, minting – all left their mark on Jewish onomastics. Physical and spiritual characteristics, such as size, age, complexion, honesty, and piety, also gave rise to series of widely used surnames. With the passage of time, in Jewish society as in general, these surnames tended to crystallize into family names, passed on from generation to generation.

There are two special types of designation, popular during the Middle Ages and early modern period, which deserve special mention. The first is the acronym. The components drawn upon for the acronym might include a title (rabbi, morenu ha-rav, ha-gaon), the given name, or the surname. Well-known examples include rashi (Rabbi Solomon Yiẓḥaki), rambam (Rabbi Moses b. Maimon), ha-gra (Ha-Gaon Rabbi Elijah). The second style of designation stems from an author's magnum opus. In many instances, e.g., the Roke'ah (R. Eleazar b. Judah) and the Tur (R. Jacob b. Asher), given names and surnames were almost totally obscured by such literary appellations.

Modern Times

With the onset of emancipation there was growing imitation of forenames current in general society. Study of Berlin Jewish forenames at the beginning of the 20th century has shown a marked tendency toward appropriation of popular German designations, although some names remained peculiarly Jewish. In the U.S., the transition from immigrant-generation to first-, second-, and third-generation status has been accompanied by constantly changing given name styles. Certain names extremely popular with an earlier generation have subsequently been totally rejected, usually out of a sense that such names were excessively identified with immigrant status and with Jewishness.

Concern over the process of emancipation occasionally led governments to restrict the range of choices for Jewish given names. Such was the force, e.g., of the Austrian edict of 1787, limiting the Jews to biblical first names. The total repudiation of emancipation espoused by the Nazis expressed itself clearly in the sphere of nomenclature. On Aug. 17, 1938, a governmental decree specified 185 forenames for men and 91 for women – many with derogatory connotations – which were henceforth to be used by German Jews. Jews already bearing names other than those specified were to assume, by Jan. 1, 1939, the additional name of Israel for a male and Sarah for a female. These new appellations were to be duly registered and faithfully used in all business and legal transactions.

Along with Zionism and the revival of the Hebrew language came a new interest in Hebrew forenames. This interest was expressed in the establishment of a Commission for Hebrew Nomenclature (Va'ad Shemon Ivri) and in the compilation of a multivolume Shemon Ivri, containing both rules for Hebraization of non-Hebrew names and a wealth of information on specific Hebrew designations. Within the Jewish community of Palestine and subsequently the State of Israel there have been numerous forename styles, reflecting differences of origin and of generation. Each of the various elements that have been woven together into Israeli society has retained its own traditional nomenclature. Successive generations of native-born Israelis have tended to reject older patterns and create their own – sometimes utilizing obscure biblical names, sometimes reviving prebiblical Canaanite designations, sometimes fashioning wholly new appellations. This dignified return to Hebrew forenames has been carried over, in limited measure, into the Western Jewish communities. While the predominant tendency remains Westernized, a steady growth in the utilization of Hebrew names popular in Israel can be discerned in the United States and Western Europe.

As the Jews passed increasingly into the mainstream of European life, the adoption of a fixed surname became ever more important. The modes of establishing these surnames, already noted, included patronyms (Abramson, Abramowitz, Jacobson, Jacobowitz, Mendelssohn), names based on localities (Berliner, Bresslau, Poznanski, Moscowitz), vocational designations (Drucker, Schneider, Wechsler), and appellations drawn from characteristics (Alt, Klein, Schwartz). The process of altering names to suit increasingly Western tastes has been inevitable. This tendency has been obvious in the U.S. Jewish community, where the family names brought from Eastern Europe generally branded their bearers as immigrants. Cumbersome Slavic endings were dropped to form short and American-sounding names. In the earlier stages of emancipation, government edicts often had to be enacted in order to institute among the Jews the regular use of surnames. Such a step was included in the Austrian legislation of 1787. Jewish surnames were to be registered by a government commission, and where the Jews refused to select a name, this same commission was empowered to make the choice. In France, Napoleon decreed the fixing of family names for the Jews in 1808, and in Prussia in 1812 emancipation of the Jews was made contingent upon the adoption within six months of acceptable surnames. In the United States the practical necessity of registration of immigrants coupled with ignorance of English resulted in the creation of a host of new surnames for bewildered newcomers. The Zionist experience has often been associated with the Hebraization of family names. The major political figures of the first few decades of the State of Israel reflect this phenomenon: Ben-Zvi (formerly Shimshelevitz), Shazar (Rubashov), Ben-Gurion (Gruen), Sharett (Shertok), Eshkol (Shkolnik), Meir (Myerson). The most common methods of fashioning new Hebrew surnames have been the use of patronyms, the translation of the non-Hebrew name into a Hebrew equivalent, and the adoption of a Hebrew designation phonetically similar to the non-Hebrew.

The demographic upheavals and the ideological conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries have thoroughly shattered the onomastic unity of many Jewish families. Brothers and cousins spread across the Diaspora and Israel often bear totally different family appellations – a curious testimony to the unparalleled disruptions of the past century of Jewish life.

[Robert Chazan]


in the bible: G.B. Gray, Studies in Hebrew Proper Names (1896); Noth, Personennamen; J.J. Stamm, in: vts, 7 (1960), 165–83; 16 (1967), 301–39; idem, in: Theologische Zeitschrift, 16 (1960), 285–97; idem, in: Studies in Honor of D. Landsberger (= Assyriological Studies, 16 (1965)), 413–24; idem, in: Fourth World Congress of Jewish Studies, Papers, 1 (1967), 141–7 301. in the talmud: The two major studies of Jewish onomastics are L. Zunz, Namen der Juden (1837), and H. Loewe, Geschichte der juedischen Namen (1929). medieval period and establishment of surnames: Useful source material can often be found in onomastic excursuses or detailed indexes in descriptions of particular Jewish communities, e.g., S. Rosanes, Togarmah, 1 (19302), and U. Cassuto, Gli Ebrei a Firenze (1918). Valuable information is also preserved in tax records, e.g., Loeb, in: rej, 1 (1880), and Levy, ibid., 19 (1889), and in funerary inscriptions, e.g., Schwab, in: Nouvelles archives des missions scientifiques et littéraires, 12 (1904); Kober, in: paajr, 14–15 (1944–45); Avneri, ibid., 33 (1965); Ankori, ibid., 38 (1970); A. Beider, A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire (1993). Specialized studies of general interest include Steinschneider, in: JQR, 9–13 (1897–1901); Kober, in: hj, 5 (1943); G. Kessler, Die Familiennamen der Juden in Deutschland (1935); Glanz, in: jsos, 23 (1961); Friedman, in: hj, 7 (1945). add. bibliography: A. Laredo, Les Noms des Juifs du Maroc, Essai d'onomastique Judeo-Marocaine (1978); H.W. Guggenheimer and E.H. Guggenheimer, Jewish Family Names and Their Origins (1992); A. Ariel, The Book of Names – The 200 Most Popular Surnames in Israel (Heb., 1997); and the series These Are the Names: Studies in Jewish Onomastics (ed. by A. Demsky et al., 1997– ).