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The given names chosen by Jews over the the centuries were dictated in part by the factors described above.

In Judaism, the given name is much more than just a label identifying an individual -- it represents HIM -- his values, his personality, his stance with respect to religious, cultural, assimilational issues, in short, his essence.  The given name determines not only the person's character but also his fate, and the name therefor takes on a highly charged symbolic value.  Perhaps this is related to the observation that children frequently resemble their grandparents in personality and looks, more than they do their own parents, and this is linked to frequently naming Jewish children after their grandparents.  In Judaism, the given name is the noun and the surname is its adjective.

Broadly speaking, the impact of Judaism and Jewish history on the given names adopted by Jews may be divided into three major periods of history:

Ancient Period2000 BCE - 587 BCE
Extended Babylonian Period  587 BCE - 950 CE
European Period950 - 1925

During the period 2000 BCE - 587 BCE, Hebrew names were not repeated and the borrowing of foreign names was negligible.  The Extended Babylonian Period covers the period in which there was a vigorous, scholarly Jewish presence in Babylonia.  During this period, there was a heavy borrowing of secular names from the Middle East society in which Jews lived, and the conversion of these names into Jewish names.  After about 950 CE, Babylonian society went into eclipse and the center of Jewish life moved to Europe;  in this period, European names were taken into the Jewish name lexicon at a rapid pace.

In the earliest Biblical days, a Hebrew given name was the exclusive possession of the person named, and these names were not repeated for a thousand years or more.  Thus, the names of the Patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov were not re-used for over a thousand years, and the name of King David was not re-used for 1500 years (in the Gaonic period). Before the Babylonian Exile (587 BCE), there is no record of a Jewish child having been named after a parent or grandparent.  The impression is that no such custom existed, and indeed, that it was avoided.

Only Hebrew names were used before the Babylonian Exile, but afterwards some Chaldean and Aramaic names became Jewish names.  One group of exiles was fiercely traditionalist and used only Hebrew names.  They re-used older Hebrew names like Yoseyf, Binyamin, and Shimon for the first time, and even created new Hebrew names like Nechemya, Chasadya, Pedaya, and Melatya.

However, another group (assimilationists) was attracted to foreign names and used them actively.  For example, typical Aramaic names ending in "ay" were adopted (Mordechay).  And some Hebrew names were converted into derived Aramaic names, e.g., Shamay from Shemaya.

This tendency for Jews in the religiously observant end of the spectrum to emphasize the use of Hebrew given names, while Jews at the secular end of the spectrum emphasize local secular names, continued throughout Jewish history and exists today.  Accordingly, Jewish genealogists find it worthwhile to probe the history of their ancestors with respect to their position in the spectrum of Jewish group types.

During the Tanachic portion (2000 BCE - 500 CE) of the Ancient Period, encompassing the time of the Tora, Prophets, and Scriptures, Hebrew given names could be divided into five categories (2):

1.  Circumstances of Birth
2.  Known Events
3.  Degree of Relationship
4.  G-d Related (theophoric)
5.  Symbolic Meanings

Some examples of Circumstances of Birth names are:  Noach ("will comfort us"), Yitzchak ("they will laugh"), Asher (his mother Leah said, "Happy am I"), Yoseyf ("The Lord added to me another son"), Binyamin (when Rachel was dying, she named him Ben Oni, "son of my sorrow").

Some examples of Known Events names are:  Geyrshom ("stranger:" Moshe named him Geyrshom, because "I have been a stranger in a foreign land"), Eliezer ("my G-d has helped:" "the G-d of my father was my help and delivered me from the swords of Pharaoh").

Some examples of Degree of Relationship names are:  Avraham ("Av-raham:" "father of a mighty nation"), Benyamin ("Ben-yamin:" "son of right"), Achimelech ("Achi-melech:" "my brother is king").

A large class of names is G-d centered (theophoric), containing G-dly prefixes and suffixes.  Some examples are:  Elnatan, Yonatan ("G-d gave"), Chananeyl ("gracious"), Yerachmieyl ("will have mercy"), Uzieyl ("strong"), Zecharya ("remembers"), Yechieyl ("lives"), Elimelech ("is King"), Michaeyl ("is incomparable").

Some examples of names with Symbolic Meanings are:  Animals:  Caleyv (dog), Rachel (sheep), Tsipora (bird, female), Yona (pigeon), Dvora (bee). Plants:  Hadasa (myrtle), Chabakuk (a garden plant), Tsemach (plant), Shoshana (lily).  Concepts:  Emuna (belief), Tikva (hope), Margalit (pearl), Shalom (peace), Tsadok (just), Baruch (blessed).

Beginning with the Babylonian Exile (586 BCE), non-Jewish names found their way into the Jewish given name lexicon and occupied varying positions of importance, depending on which category of Jew adopted them, in which time period they were adopted, and in which country they were chosen.  By the 12th century CE, the use of secular names had become so widespread in Europe that the rabbis decreed that every Jewish boy must be given a purely Jewish (Hebrew) name at circumcision.  Thus, it became customary to give two names:  Shem HaKodesh, the sacred name for being called to the Tora and for religious documents, and a Nickname, a non-sacred name for civil and business purposes.  This rabbinic statute is still binding today.

Some non-Jewish given names were imported without change, while others were modified in pronunciation in order to "fit" the Jewish psyche properly.  In addition to the original Hebrew names, then, this decree confirmed the elevation of Aramaic, Greek, and Latin names to be shemot hakodesh:

        6.  Aramaic, Greek, and Latin names

Also, by the 12th century, the development of the new Yiddish language was gaining momentum, and Ashkenazic Jews (German, Alsatian, Austrian, Polish, Russian) used secular (e.g., German) names widely and also generated many Yiddish and non-Yiddish diminutives and nicknames to pair with existing Hebrew names.  This was the beginning of a broad use of vernacular nicknames and diminutives associated with Jewish names but not having the status of a sacred name. Some examples are:

AvrahamAberke, Aberl, Aberlein, Avrom, Fromel, Everman, Evril
DavidTevel, Tevele
ElchananElkin, Elkan
ElazarLasar, Lazar, Lazarus
EliezerLeeser, Leser, Leyser
ShmuelShmulik, Shmelke, Sanvil, Zanvil, Zangvil
ShlomoSalaman, Salmon, Zalman, Zalkin, Zalkind
YaakovYekel, Yukel, Yokel, Yankel, Yakovl, Kopel, Kopelman
YehudaJudel, Udel, Yudke, Yudko
YisraelIsril, Iserl, Srulik, Srul, Srol
Yitzchak    Eisig, Eisnik, Eisman, Itzig, Itzik, Itzl, Zekl, Sekel
YosefYosel, Yosi, Yos, Yesse, Jessel, Yoske

Development of the Yiddish language began around 1000 CE, and finally found its home in Eastern Europe where it became the lingua franca among Jews, like Aramaic in its day.  Many Yiddish names were drawn from German names, but a significant number of others came from Slavic, Polish, French, and other sources.  Many Yiddish names were then also incorporated into the Hebrew name lexicon, but in a somewhat different way than occurred for Aramaic, Greek, and Latin names.  First, Yiddish names were used to form Legal double names with some Hebrew names (e.g., Arye Leib, Avraham Everman, Baruch Bendit, Menachem Mendel, Shneiur Zalman;  Dvora Dvoshe.) Such names were valid names for calling men to the Tora, and for use by men and women in religious documents.  Then, the full name was forgotten or changed by some Jews, so that in some cases, the Yiddish name was used alone by men for an aliya or in religious documents.  Thus, some Yiddish names became full-fledged Hebrew names in some circles.

Accordingly, another category may be added to the list of Hebrew names:

        7.  Some Yiddish names

We may summarize the dynamic adoption by Jews of new Hebrew (H), Yiddish (Y), and non-Jewish secular (S) given names from other peoples and from one another in Figure 1:

       Observant        Jewish
       H<--Y<--S      H<--Y<--S     H<--Y<--S     H  Y  S
               ^              ^             ^           ^
               |              |             |           |
               |              |             |           |
               -------External Secular Names-------------

         Figure 1.  Adoption Paths for Secular Names

This diagram applies after the growth of the Yiddish language and Yiddish names began seriously in the 12th century.  Before the advent of Yiddish names, their place was occupied by Aramaic, Greek, and Latin names, until some of these eventually were absorbed into use as Hebrew names. Later, secular names were absorbed from non-Jewish sources and were used as is, were converted to Yiddish names, and some ended up as formal Hebrew names.

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