Well, this week's parsha is Shemot, names. So let's talk about a conversion-specific name issue:
When you have multiple conversions, should you change your Hebrew name or add to it?
As a preliminary matter, what kind of change are we talking about? At a second conversion, many converts either a) change their Hebrew name to an entirely different Hebrew name or, more commonly, b) add a second or third name to the prior Hebrew name. Having three names is unusual but not unheard of, though you shouldn't push it to four names.
So...should you? I can't answer this question for you, nor can anyone else. I've heard of a right-wing orthodox beit din that did require a name change of some kind if the candidate had a Hebrew name already, either from a prior conversion or because they were raised in a liberal movement but required a conversion in the orthodox community. (If you don't understand the last idea, it's essentially patrilineal Jews raised in the reform movement and the children of female liberal converts.) While this may apply to someone who received a Hebrew name from parents, I am going to address this post to people who chose their Hebrew name the first time around.
Keep in mind: it is a perfectly valid choice to keep the same Hebrew name through multiple conversions. If you are set on doing that, don't let others bully you to make a change you don't want.
First, why would anyone think this is a good idea? There are several possible reasons, including, but not limited to the following:
- The desire to create a new identity separate from your prior Jewish identity.
- The desire to mark a distinction between one conversion to another.
- The desire to change your "mazal," your luck. (When someone is very ill, he or she may add a name to their Hebrew name to accomplish this same change of mazal.)
- The reflection of a belief that the prior conversion was invalid or a negative experience.
- The reflection of the convert's changed view of himself or herself Jewishly from the prior conversion.
- The reflection of a particular influence, mentor, or inspirational person.
- A desire to "balance" your name if you went strictly traditional or very modern the first time around.
- The reflection of new knowledge of a Jewish family history.
- It just feels right.
- Some other reason you can't quite put your finger on.
Did you change your name or add to it? What made you decide to do it?
Personally, I've decided to go from Kochava to Kochava Yocheved. My reasons are personal, but mostly organic and of the can't-quite-put-my-finger-on-it variety. It just hit me one day, and I've been letting it roll around in my mind for the last few months. Unfortunately, I can only pronounce it correctly about half the time. It sounds beautiful and rhythmic together, but also makes a good tongue-twister.
I think Kochava Yocheved reflects the "balancing" idea above very well. I don't remember the exact reasons why I chose Kochava, and it was a very last-minute choice after being convinced for years that I would choose Nechama (at least I have a type, right?). But I remember being very happy that it was a modern Israeli name, not much older than the state itself. It's a very Zionist name, the kind of name that reminds me of the agricultural collective beginnings of the state. It is also very unique like my English name, which was also important to me. If people say my name, I fully expect to be the only person to answer. If I chose to go by my Hebrew name at some point, I wanted something similar.
On the other hand, Yocheved is a very traditional name, straight from an important Torah personality. I've spent time learning stories and lessons Torah scholars have written based on her life. It gives me a biblical mentor, in a sense. So in Kochava Yocheved, I can tie the beginnings of the Jewish people with the modern re-beginning of the Jewish people. I think that reflects the Jewish sense of time, how we're constantly re-connecting with prior times, rather than being in a linear timeline. And on the literal level, I am a star of Hashem's glory, a small spark of Hashem's light shining forth to the rest of the universe. Or so I hope :D