Jewish people have, unfortunately, spent hundreds upon hundreds of years living in exile outside of the land of Israel. When living among non-Jewish people, inevitably they had to take on non-Jewish names. They would come into interaction with non-Jewish people who would simply find their Hebrew names too hard to pronounce. It became so wide-spread to take on local names, that in the twelfth century the Jewish leaders actually found it necessary to pass a Rabbinic ruling that made it a requirement to have a Hebrew name.

Nowadays, for Jewish people living outside of Israel, Hebrew names are used in certain religious contexts. When praying for a person, for example for a full recovery when they are unwell, the Hebrew names are used. Furthermore, when one is called up to the Torah in Synagogue, honored with reciting a blessing over the Torah, he is called up by his Hebrew name. The Jewish marriage document, known as a Ketubah is written using the Hebrew names of the man and woman. A Divorce document is also. There are special prayers recited for the memory of deceased people and in these too, the Hebrew names are used. Tombstones will often be inscribed with secular and Hebrew, or just Hebrew names.

A Hebrew name is made up of a given name, followed by ben (meaning son of) or bat (meaning daughter of) , followed by the person’s father’s Hebrew name. If the person is a priest, the name is followed by “ha-Kohen” (meaning “the priest”). If the person is descended from the Levite tribe, his name is followed by “ha-Levi” (meaning “the Levite”). If the person or his father is a Rabbi, the name is followed by “ha-Rav” (meaning “the Rabbi”). This format is seen in the Torah. Surnames then changed from generation to generation- Abraham’s son Isaac was Yitzchak ben Avraham, whereas Isaac’s son was Ya’akov ben Yitzchak.

It is quite commonly practiced that Jews in the Diaspora would give their children a secular name that corresponds to their Hebrew name. Sometimes the name would be the anglicized version of the same name, with the pronunciation being slightly different. Sometimes an English name will only retain the first letter of the Hebrew name. No hard-and-fast rules really exist regarding the translation of Hebrew names into English ones and there actually is no rule that states that there has to be correspondence between the two.

Nowadays, there is a sense of pride in one’s heritage and roots that didn’t exist in the past and many Jewish people like to wear their Jewish names, whether they use them or not, on a necklace, proudly displaying their history and culture for all to see.