Wearing their heritage with pride: Jewish Name Necklaces
In recent years a growing trend is for young (and not so young) Jewish people to wear their Jewish names around their neck in the form of a Jewish Name Necklace. These Name Necklaces became popular in secular culture and were adopted by Jewish people as a way of proudly displaying their Hebrew names. Name Necklaces come in both Hebrew and English script, depending on whether the wearer wants the general public to read her name or just those understanding Hebrew to be in on the secret.
Why did the use of non-Jewish names become common practice among Jewish people?
It is interesting to look into the history of Hebrew names among the Jewish people. After the Jewish people were exiled from the Holy Land, over two-thousand years ago and were forced to live in gentile lands, it became accepted practice for them to take on local names so that interaction with their gentile neighbors would be easier. By the twelfth century this practice was so wide-spread that the Rabbis made a rabbinic ruling requiring Jewish people to have a Hebrew name!
When are Jewish Hebrew names used?
A person’s Hebrew name is used in prayer and in religious settings such as in the synagogue. When a person is called up to the Torah in synagogue he is called up using his Hebrew name. Also, the names that appear on the Ketuba- the marriage contract- will be Hebrew names. When people are ill and special prayers are recited for their well-being in synagogue, their Hebrew names are used.
What does a Hebrew name consist of?
A Hebrew name consists of a given name, followed by ben (son of) or bat (daughter of), followed by the person’s father’s Hebrew name. If the person is a descendant of Aaron, and thereby a priest, the name is followed by ha-Kohen (meaning “the priest”). If the person is a descendant of the tribe of Levi, his name will be followed by ha-Levi (meaning “the Levite”).
Are Jewish people’s secular names related to their Hebrew names?
Quite often the secular name of a Jewish person corresponds directly to their Hebrew name. The secular name will be an anglicized version of the Hebrew name. Sometimes the secular name will retain part of the Hebrew name. Then again, there are also Jewish people whose secular and Hebrew names have absolutely nothing in common.
WHAT’S IN A (JEWISH) NAME?
The uncomfortable situation of having to repeat one’s Jewish name, again and again, is one that is very familiar to a lot of people living outside of Israel. The solution for a number of people has been to give their children a secular name that they go by and a secondary Hebrew name. Many will give Hebrew equivalents to the secular name. For many children, their Hebrew names are a source of embarrassment, something they’d rather not mention, and indeed, in some cases, it is barely recalled after the day their parents bestowed it upon them.
Well, Shakespeare’s take, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, seems to view names as quite arbitrary. The Jewish take on names begs to differ. In the Jewish approach, Adam was the one to assign names to the animals populating the world, and whatever he chose remained its name (Genesis 2:19). The names chosen by Adam were far from random. He named the animals in such a way that their titles reflected their inner essence. For example, the donkey was called “chamor” and it is not surprising to learn that the name for material goods that the donkey transports is “chomer”.
This too is the way with peoples’ names in Judaism. They reflect a person’s inner essence. The sixteenth-century Kabbalist, the Arizal, believed that one’s name and its numerical value communicate the very nature of the person. A look at the Hebrew word for soul, “neshama” is very telling- it contains within it the word “shem” meaning name proving the strong link between one’s soul and name.
Through understanding one’s Jewish name one learns of one’s very essence. If one is named after a Biblical character, it is interesting to note whether some of the struggles they faced are struggles we face on our own personal level. When a Jew is called up in Synagogue to the Torah, his Hebrew name is used, reminding him of his very essence.
It is believed that when parents name a child they have Divine guidance. Judaism does not believe in happenstance and each person receives his name for a reason. Having said that, there are certain names, such as names of unsavory Biblical characters that are not seen as fitting, and therefore people who discover that their Hebrew name is, to say the least, unflattering will often opt to change it.
Jewish names are one of the four factors that allowed us to merit redemption from Egypt-the fact that the Jewish people used their Jewish names with pride and refused to assimilate into Egyptian culture saved them when they were wallowing in the forty-ninth level of impurity.
Wearing a fashionable Hebrew Name Necklace can be the perfect way to express your pride in your unique Jewish name. Treat yourself or significant others to a beautiful necklace that is both striking and meaningful.