Sunday, December 28, 2014

Does the Rabbi Choose My Hebrew Name?

Generally, no. Not unless you want him to, but perhaps in some Chassidic communities. However, most rabbis I know would probably feel pretty awkward if asked to name another person. After all, the convert has to live with it for forever. That's a lot of pressure to put on a rabbi.

Unless you are in a Chassidic community where it is common practice for the main Rebbe to give or suggest names to baalei teshuva and converts, I view a rabbi claiming the exclusive right to name you as a giant red flag. What's probably not a red flag: "I think the name X is so you." 

Normally, I'd say there's a lot in between, but I don't think that's the case here. When it comes to a rabbi suggesting a Hebrew name, I think there are usually two polar extremes (based on anecdotes):
A) Your Hebrew name is going to be Y.
B) Have you considered the name Z? I think it might be a good fit for you and your personality.

Most rabbis never suggest a name at all. You may only hear, "So what is your name going to be?" or "Have you thought about any names yet?" or "So what name am I putting on the certificate?"

You are always free to ask your rabbi (or anyone else in the community, for that matter!) for suggested names. Sometimes it's fun to hear what names other people think "fit" you. It can make a great Shabbos table conversation with people who know you pretty well.

Important: Remember to run your Hebrew name past a rabbi or other knowledgeable person (particularly someone fluent in modern Hebrew), and do that sooner rather than later. You don't want to be like me. I spent 2 years getting really attached to an unusual Hebrew name, only to find out it's a c > ch sound away from being the word "disease" in Hebrew! 

Go to the Hebrew Names section if you want more advice on choosing your Hebrew name!


  1. I do NOT agree with you about the "GIANT RED FLAG."

    If a Rabbi recommends a specific name,
    then you should listen very carefully,
    and not be quick to reject his advice,
    and not reject his advice without good reason.

    Kochava Yocheved , I have been reading your blog articles for a long time, and you seem to believe that any convert to Judaism, or any candidate to become a convert,
    is much wiser and much holier than any Rabbi and/or Beth Din in the world.

    That is the impression I get from reading and re-reading your articles;
    and it is a big problem.

    1. It's funny you should bring up this "problem" with my writing. Today, I wrote something on just that topic that is scheduled to be posted on Wednesday. I hope you'll come back with suggestions to help me improve.

      As to your comment, I don't think I have ever said that converts or candidates are wiser or holier than anyone. I want conversion candidates to avoid the emotional abuse, exploitation, and inappropriate situations that can happen in the conversion process because of the pronounced power dynamic, coupled with little oversight of rabbis. Rabbis are human. I personally have suffered from abuses of power (including inappropriate sexual questioning, as I have written before), as have most of the other converts I know. It's a problem, and unfortunately, conversion candidates are unaware of what is appropriate and what may not be appropriate. And we're so desperate to convert and we know that the rabbis hold the key. We put up with a lot of things that are not right, ethical, halachic, or even legal. A major goal of this blog is to share what should be normal in a conversion process (or the Jewish community) and what should be worrisome. It's learning an entirely new society with its own unwritten rules.

      So generally, that is why I believe it is a red flag for a rabbi to say a person should take this Hebrew name, no ifs ands or buts. It's one thing to suggest a name, which many rabbis will do, especially if asked. It's a warning sign of a potentially problematic power relationship if the rabbi wants to exercise absolute power over such a personal part of someone, his or her name, which will stay with that person until death. I'll edit the text to try to make it clearer that suggestions are not what I mean.

    2. Completely agree with Kochava there! She has experienced a lot in the power struggles of rav vs convert. I have, too. And i can tell you that I have dealt with a rabbi that is quite controlling and he got quite unhappy with one of his converts who chose a name he thought was too special for that convert to use. Kochava stated a very good warning signal.

  2. I have chosen my "eventual" Hebrew name and keep it in my mental pocket. I did not choose it based on my personality or because I like the way it sounds, but on what I aspire to be as a future Jew.