Cultural Origins of Hebrew Names and Language
Hebrew is one of the world's oldest languages. In Judaism, Hebrew is often referred to as the Holy Tongue because it was said to be the only language at the start of the world and spoken by God during Creation. The Hebrew people are known to be descendants of Abraham (Avraham), and today are known as the Jewish people.
Hebrew first names first started being used after the Exile to Babylon. Throughout the Talmudic period, a large proportion of names were of Greek origin and were taken from the Bible. During the Talmudic period, the Hebrew tradition of using double names was first introduced as an attempt to translate the Hebrew names into Greek names.
During the Post-Talmudic period, as the Jews spread throughout the lands bordering the Mediterranean, they drew upon other languages for their personal names while still retaining Biblical ones. This is when the use of non-Jewish first names first became normalized. There are over 3,000 Biblical Hebrew names in use today.
For centuries, Hebrew was spoken by the Israelites and has been preserved as the sacred language of Judaism. Both Hebrew and Arabic are Semitic languages, and closely resemble each other in terms of grammatical structure. Over centuries, different Jewish hybrid languages evolved from Hebrew. Two of these hybrid languages include Yiddish and Judeo-Spanish, also known as Ladino or Sephardi.
Yiddish is a Germanic language mainly spoken by Ashkenazi Jews. The name Yiddish comes from the German word for "Jewish," and closely resembles German but is written using the Hebrew alphabet. Judeo-Spanish originated by Jewish people living in Spain and combines elements of Hebrew and Castilian Spanish.
In the 6th century BCE, the Kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Neo-Babylonian empire, destroying the city of Jerusalem and exiling many Israelites to Babylon. During this period, many Israelites were made to learn and speak Aramaic rather than Hebrew, and the language died out for many centuries.
However, beginning in the 19th century, Jewish and Israeli communities began an effort to revive the Hebrew language in literature and in practice. Today, Modern Hebrew and Israeli Hebrew is the official language of Israel and is spoken by over 9 million people around the globe.
Image: Jerusalem, Israel
Popular Hebrew Naming Traditions and Practices
In Judaism, there are different traditions and beliefs around choosing a name for your child. Ashkenazic Jews (Jews of Central and Eastern European origin) generally do not choose to name a baby after a living person or relative. Many believe in the superstition that choosing a baby name based on someone who is still alive is bad luck.
However, it is considered an honor and kind practice to name a newborn after a deceased family member or close friend. Naming a baby after a departed relative is said to pass down the positive traits and characteristics of that person onto the child. Many Jewish families also believe that selecting a name with the same first letter of the deceased person is also a way to honor them. So for example, a Jewish boy may be called Amos or Avi to honor his great-grandfather "Abel."
However, for Sephardic Jews of Iberian or Middle-Eastern origin, it is generally considered positive and common to name a new child after a living relative. Many times, when selecting a Jewish name, children are given a unique Hebrew name in addition to their secular given name or kinnui. The Hebrew name is considered sacred (shem kodesh) and used during any religious ceremonies.
10 Popular Hebrew Girl Names (with English Meanings)
Looking for a beautiful Jewish name for your baby girl? Here are some common and beautiful Hebrew girl names to inspire your baby name search.
- Rachel - A name meaning "Little lamb, ewe; one with purity."
- Elizabeth - A Biblical name meaning"My God is an oath", "My God is abundance", and "pledged to God".
- Sarah - Derived from the Hebrew word meaning "princess."
- Leah - The name Leah is of Hebrew origin and means "weary." It is derived from the Hebrew word le'ah.
- Hannah - Deriving from the Hebrew name Channah, Hannah means "grace." Hannah is well-known as the mother of Samuel in the Old Testament.
- Eliza - The name Eliza means "pledged to God."
- Abigail - Abigail, meaning "my father's joy" is directly derived from the Hebrew name, "Avigail."
- Miriam -A name of Hebrew/Israeli origin meaning "drop of the sea, bitter, or beloved." In the Bible, Miriam was a prophetess and the sister of Moses.
- Naomi - Naomi was the mother of Ruth in the Book of Ruth. Naomi also means "pleasant."
- Esther - meaning "Star" in Persian. Queen Esther becomes the Queen of Persia in the Book of Esther, also known in Hebrew as "The Scroll."
10 Popular Hebrew Boy Names (with English Meanings)
Here are some common Hebrew boy names that may inspire your search for a Hebrew baby name for your baby boy.
- Noah - The name Noah has been derived from the biblical figure by the same name and comes from the Babylonian word "nukhu" meaning repose or rest.
- Jacob - A boy's name found in the Old Testament. The meaning of Jacob is “supplanter.”
- Jonathan - A common Hebrew name meaning "God's gift" or "gift of Jehovah".
- Adam - The name Adam is of Hebrew origin and means "son of the red Earth". It derives from Hebrew אדם ('adam) meaning "to be red."
- Levi - A boy's name meaning "to join" or "unite."
- Samuel - A name which means "Name of God." In the Old Testament, Samuel was one of the great judges and prophets of the Israelites.
- Benjamin - A name meaning "son of my right hand." In the Old Testament, Benjamin is the son of Jacob and Rachel.
- Caleb - The name Caleb translates to "devotion to God."
- Isaac - The name Isaac is of Hebrew origin and means "laughter."
10. Aaron - A name meaning "exalted" or "strong." In the Bible, Aaron is the brother of Moses.
Most Popular Hebrew First Names on FamilyEducation: Ari, Ariel, Jonah, Joshua, David, Daniel