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.