“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”
According to a recently published article in the Jewish Press, the naming of Jewish babies is a rather complicated element of Jewish culture. The Jewish Press claimed that the difficulty in Jewish baby naming is “because Jewish parents are compelled not only to select a secular name, but also a Jewish one for their babies.”
People often find it challenging to select one name for their baby, but choosing two names can be daunting. When families move to Israel and retain their foreign passports, a whole new series of complications can arise. While a Hebrew or Biblical inspired name may work well on an Israeli passport, it could become difficult to translate or transliterate on foreign passports and documents.
There are some names which can be used easily in both their original Hebrew as well as English such as; Abraham, Levi, Isaac, Rachel, Sara, Noa, Ezra, Aaron, etc… But often finding a translation for many popular modern Hebrew names such as Dudu, Osnat, Moran, Shachar, and Biblical names such as Chanoch, or Chizkiyahu can be troublesome.
So why choose a name that would require a different secular, or non-Jewish name in addition to the original? This question has bothered parents and scholars alike for generations, ever since the custom of the double name originated.
Historically, Ashkenazi (Eastern and Central European Jewish origin) Jews have bestowed two names upon their children ever since the 12th century; “Many Jews working outside the Shtetl decided to adopt a secular name that would help them to be better understood by the non-Jewish communities and be accepted by them. Besides this, their name also could be easily pronounced by the outside world and they could be better understood.”
While Jews no longer lead completely insular lives in a shtetl, the custom remains to provide Jewish babies with both Jewish and secular names.These days, Jews will often use their secular name for everyday use, and reserve their Jewish name for religious purposes.
A Jewish teen is likely to need her or his Hebrew name when they are called to the Torah at their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, at their wedding, and at various other religious affairs.
Having a second Jewish name actually distinguishes the Jewish community from other faiths, while at the same time reminds Jews of their traditions and roots. There are numerous customs and traditions surrounding Jewish baby names. The extra complication involved however,reminds the Jewish people that although they are no longer confined to the Shtetl, they still very much are a unique people with strong links to the past.