Jewish names for a boy - expecting our first

My wife and I are expecting our first.  Our girl name is Rachel, but we cannot figure out a boy name, even though we have a list of ones we like.  We'd appreciate your feedback on this list or suggestions of others.  Doesn't have to be Biblical, just Jewish, though those things are almost always redundant.  

 

We agree on (and why it's not the perfect one):

Samuel (don't love Sam as a nickname, which it will inevitably be)

Jonah (maybe getting too popular?; also thinking about using her grandfather's name as a middle, it starts with E, and last name starts with W, so... there you go)

Reuben (probably the favorite, but if the second is a girl, we want to be able to use Rachel, and we don't want two Rs)

Simon (used to love it, but it's lost its appeal in just the past few months, so what will happen over many years?)

 

She likes (but I think is too popular):

Jacob

 

I like (but she thinks are too weird):

Ezra

Faisel (Yiddish)

 

We should like (but just don't):

Isaac

Abraham

Joshua

David

Aaron

Jason

 

We like but can't use (family members):

Noah

Gabriel

Daniel

Caleb

Ethan

 

That enough data for you?  Haha!  We'd really appreciate thoughts; we still have a few months to mull it over (and we'll probably find out if it's a boy or a girl eventually, so maybe this will be mute).

Replies

1
October 24, 2012 3:53 PM

I see a couple patterns in ones that you like vs. ones you "should but don't" like.

I see quite a few that you like that end in the "-a" or "-ah" category. I'd suggest:
Micah, Elijah, Elisha, Judah, Asa, Hosea, Isaiah, Jedediah, Jeremiah, or Zachariah

I also see "-el" in the likes, so try:
Uriel, Nathanael, Ezekiel, Joel or Michael/Mikael

I see a combo of "-n" with "-on" not being a favorite by itself maybe? So try:
Simeon, Gideon, Jonathan, Samson, or Solomon 

Other ideas:
Eli (Elijah or Elisha or Elias), Levi, Joseph, Malachi, Jared, Tobias, or Asher?

I've found with Samuel that I have the same kind of hang up. I love the full name, but not the nickname of Sam. This falls into the category of caution for me as one criteria for my own personal naming of children is that there have to be at least a couple of nicknames that I like even if there is one that I don't like. Unfortunately Samuel finds itself in the "I don't like any of the nicknames" category for me. Since we are a family that tends to use nicknames, that doesn't work well for us. However, as you are thinking of using Rachel for a girl, which mostly doesn't lend itself to many nicknames either, you could set a precident with your first that you just don't use nicknames. So until the child is old enough to choose to go by a nickname, it's fairly simple to just correct people who shorten it to Sam. Enough people do this now, that I don't think it's a problem.

2
October 24, 2012 4:35 PM

Samuel:  I don't think a nickname is required.  I know a little Samuel who doesn't go by Sam.  In fact, I know several boys with names that used to automatically get nicked, but none of them go by anything but the full name (Thomas, Robert, Andrew, William, Nathaniel, etc)

Simon:  I like it.  Is it possible it's lost it's luster because names have been such a big topic lately?  You might want to shelve conversations about it for now, but leave it on the long list and see what happens.

Jonah:  I like it and it doesn't seem to be too popular around me.  Though if the E middle name is a pretty for sure thing I think you have to pass.  Or maybe 2 middles would be an option for you?  

Reuben:  I also like this, so it's really a matter of which name is more imporant for you to use.

Jacob-very popular & Ezra doesn't seem too weird to me.  However, I think it's probably best to take these off the table since the 2 of you can't agree on them.

Faisel:  I'm not Jewish & am not really familiar with Yiddish and this name is just hard for me.  I'm not sure how to say it & had to look multiple times to make sure I was spelling it right.  It's a matter of deciding how important the name is to you vs. the amount of headache you are likely to have from needing to correct people like me all the time.

You've already gotten some really great suggestions, so I will only throw out a couple that came to mind rather quickly.  Isaiah strikes me as a little like Isaac but with enough of the sound of Ezra thrown in that maybe it will appeal?  And Judah, reminds me a bit of Jonah but not as popular, though it doesn't solve the problem with the initials.

 

3
October 24, 2012 9:02 PM

First of all, Faisel in various transliterations is an Arabic name popular in the Saudi royal family.  You may be thinking of Feibush (nickname Feivel), the Yiddish version of Phoebus.

I am assuming that using your wife's grandfather's name in the middle is in line with the Ashkenazic custom of naming children after deceased relatives.  I further assume you are Ashkenazic, because you mentioned Yiddish. 

As for Jewish names, well, they can be Hebrew names which are biblical or non-biblical, English versions of Hebrew names, Yiddish names, Aramaic names, names which have been adopted by Jewish custom from other languages.  The biblical names can be those that have long been accepted as appropriate for Jewish children (that is, the names of "good" characters) or those which have not been accepted as appropriate (mainly of pre-Abrahamic figures like Yuval and Nimrod).  These latter have been adapted by secular Israelis who find the traditionally accepted biblical names to be (literally) too ghetto.  There are also modern Israeli Hebrew names, many of which are nature words.

Some of the modern Israeli names are Ari (lion), Dov (bear), Ze(e)v (wolf), Gilad (Gilead--a place name), Alon (oak tree), Avi (my father), Erez (cedar), Gal (wave), Tal (dew), Gil (joy), Ilan (tree), Lev (heart), Noam (pleasantness). Oren (pine tree), Ron (song), Shai (gift), Tom (honest), Yarden (Jordan), Ziv (bright).

Biblical (both used and not used traditionally) and other traditional names:

Moses/Moshe (Moss is a nice medieval variant), Mordechai (Persian), Akiva/Akiba (variant of Yaacov/Jacob), Omri (wheat sheaf), Oded,  Adam (man, red), Amnon, Baruch (blessed), Barak (lightning), Simcha (happiness), Asa (doctor), Ira (watchful), Boaz (swiftness), Dan, Ephraim,  Ehud (united), Hillel (praise), Mattisyahu (Matthew), Menachem (comforter), Meir (light), Nathan (gift), Saul, Shalom (peace), Yair.

Some Yiddish names:

Hersh/Hershel (stag), Ber (bear), Wolf, Benesh (Benedict), Haskel (Ezekiel), Mendel, Selig (blessed, happy), Sender/Sander (Alexander)

4
October 25, 2012 2:05 AM

Thank you - of course you are right that I am thinking of Fievel, as in the mouse!  I do like Faisel as well, but both are mute, as they are too out there for my wife.  Thank you also for pointing out the wide variety of origins for "Jewish" names.  We are U.S. centric, so many of the modern Israeli names, while beautiful, are not going to be good fits.  That is why I mentioned that most will be Biblical, as that is what Americans are familiar with, especially those accepted as modern names.  As you can see from our lists, that is where our preferences lie.  Food for thought, though.  

 

Really appreciate the feedback.  Have some new additions to the evergrowing list!  Keep them coming as you think of them!

5
October 25, 2012 8:25 PM

How do you say Ari?   I've heard it as Air-ee and Are-ee.  I really rather like Are-ee, but have no idea if that would be correct or not.

6
October 25, 2012 9:36 PM

Haha! This comes back to the Marry-Mary-Merry merger issue. In Hebrew, Ari is pronounced more or less with a schwa - so, like the word "around" but with ee instead of ound. (Here is audio of someone saying it in Hebrew.)

However, when said in English, there are several ways that it can go. People who are merged often say AIR-ee, especially if they are just reading it and haven't heard it in Hebrew. Others say it like ARE-ee, which is much closer to the Hebrew pronunciation.

I think that another reason for the change is that in Hebrew, the stress is on the second syllable, so uh-REE, but in English it's on the first syllable. In English, the unstressed schwa, by definition, cannot be stressed, so when translated, the vowel tends to migrate around, depending on the vowels that the speaker typically uses. So, for example, in my community where "a" before "r" is often the vowel in cat, we say Ari using that vowel (æri).

7
By EVie
October 26, 2012 12:24 AM

I've known a handful of (American Jewish) guys named Ari, and they've all been pronounced with the a as in "father," with the stress on the first syllable. Same with Avi, of which I've known one. I can imagine the different Hebrew pronunciation, but "Airy" seems very weird to me.

8
October 26, 2012 10:14 AM

Damn that Marry-Mary-Merry merger.  It has a habit of making simple questions much more complicated.

I do appreciate the answer though, and it's good to know the version that felt more "right" to me is actually closer to the Hebrew pronunciation.

So for people who are not Marry-Mary-Merry merged, would they say one of these more like Are-ee?  I say them all to rhyme with Air-ee.  I try to listen really carefully if I'm listening to someone who shouldn't be merged (say, watching BBC) but I honestly can't hear the difference.  Since I can hear the difference in Ari, maybe I can use that as a starting point to notice it in other words.

9
By hyz
October 26, 2012 12:11 AM

The Aris I have known and heard of have all been "are-ee", so that is what I say.   I never knew the Hebrew pronunciation stressed the second syllable--that's interesting.  My Mary/merry/marry are fully merged, but this is a different sound entirely (basically just "ah") so that doesn't have an effect on it for me.  It is like "starry" without the ST.  However, I was just recently talking with a guy named Ari who said that people routinely  mispronounce his name as "air-ee" (his accent is merged like mine, so "air-ee" here would refer to any of the mary/merry/marry vowels), even long-time acquaintances who should know better after multiple corrections.  It doesn't seem like it should be a hard name to me, but I guess a lot of people just can't get past their own bias on how those 3 letters should sound.  I actually would've recommended Ari here but for that conversation, given that the OP seems to be looking for an uncomplicated name for American consumption.  I do think it's a very nice name.  

10
November 4, 2012 12:35 PM

I still think it's fairly uncomplicated -- there are just some names that some people are never going to get right.

 

I'm a Laura, pronounced Lahr-ah.   There are people who have known me for 30 years who call me Lore-ah.  My mother has the same name I do, and there are people who have known her for 60 years who call her Lore-ah.  It's a thing.  Some people just ain't gonna get it, no matter how simple it seems.  I wouldn't let it put me off a name I loved.

 

I met my first Ari when I was about 6 (I'm in the US and at the time lived in a suburb of a major city).  I didn't much care for the kid, but I did like his name, and even today I rather enjoy meeting people with it because I like it so much.

11
By hyz
October 25, 2012 11:03 AM

Samuel -- a great, classic name.  I don't think it would be impossible to avoid Sam(my) as a nn, but it would be an uphill battle, maybe especially once he's in middle school or older and making his own decisions about nns. 

Jonah -- I really love this name, but agree it's a no-go with E.W. initials.  With something else in the middle, I'd say it aws a winner.  It does not seem overly popular in my circles yet (both Jewish and non-Jewish). 

Reuben -- I definitely wouldn't use it with Rachel, not only because of the two Rs, but because of the children's song Reuben and Rachel (this is the version I know, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qq1VOEvyk6M , but I believe the original version is not a children's song and involves Reuben and Rachel as love interests)

Simon -- I love this name too, but if it's lost appeal for you, maybe it's not the right one.  I think it's great, though. 

Other ideas (including a second vote for some that have already been suggested above): Asa, Benjamin, Isaiah, Elijah, Solomon, Leo, Lior, Levi, Seth, Theodore, Amos, Abram, Nathan, Jonathan, Joel, Ephraim, Peter, Raphael, Philip, Thaddeus, Evan, Victor.... 

(My personal favorites: Solomon, Jonah, Asa, Simon, Isaiah, Leo--although I like all of them here) 

12
October 26, 2012 11:11 AM

Congratulations! 

On your current list:

  • Samuel – I agree with others that enough young children today go by full versions of their names that the nickname Sam is not inevitable if you always introduce him as Samuel. (Of course, if your family is full of nickname lovers this may not be enough.) Once he’s older though, he may prefer to go by Sam and there won’t be much you can do about it. If you hate the name Sam enough that this would bother you, look elsewhere, but if you just don’t want to use Sam yourselves there’s no reason you have to.
  • Jonah – As far as popularity goes, it’s ranked #137 in the U.S. and Samuel is much higher, at #28. I agree that it feels trendier though (it’s been getting more popular) while Samuel seems more timeless. I have to agree with you on the initials though. Any chance of reversing the order instead? E.J. would give you another nickname option, if that appeals to you.
  • Reuben (probably the favorite, but if the second is a girl, we want to be able to use Rachel, and we don't want two Rs) – As I read this, I automatically found myself changing the end of your sentence to “and we don’t want two sandwiches!” (Is a “deli Jew” something like a “cafeteria Catholic?”) Reuben on its own does make me think of sandwiches, but it’s not an overwhelming association and not a knock in my book against an otherwise fine name; Rachel doesn’t make me think of sandwiches at all unless it’s in the same sentence with Reuben, rye or turkey. :-) The two together though – that’s the first thing I see (maybe I’m hungry?) and then I think of the Reuben and Rachel song hyz posted about. So yeah, if you want to use Rachel, I’d definitely skip Reuben. I can also understand not wanting two Rs in general, but with these two names there are more connections than the shared initial.
  • Simon – I’d leave it on the list for now and see how you feel. Maybe you’ll find another occasion to connect with why you liked it in the first place.
  • I’d cross off Jacob, Ezra and Feivel since you’re not both on board. It is useful to know what appeals to you though in trying to come up with alternatives. For what it’s worth, I agree about the popularity of Jacob (and you still have the initials problem), and I don’t think Ezra is too weird (it’s on an upswing, currently #292 in the U.S.). Feivel is certainly the most unusual and having the cartoon mouse as its only pop culture association adds to the quirky impression. I like it though: it feels lively and adventurous in a good way. Yiddish names have been pretty much absent in the communities I’ve lived in though, so I may not have the best sense of how it “reads” to others.

Suggestions (and I know I’m repeating others' ideas):

  • You like Noah and Ethan - how about Nathan or Nathaniel?
  • You like Samuel and Simon - how about Solomon?
  • You like Jonah - how about Judah? You want to like Jason and Joshua (but don't) - how about Jesse, Joel, Joseph, Josiah? (Of course you again have the initials problem.)
  • You like Ezra, she likes Jacob - how about Ezekiel? The nickname Zeke might capture some of the appeal of Jake.
  • You like Reuben but don't want an R - how about Benjamin?
  • You don't like Isaac but do like Noah - how about Isaiah?
  • You like Simon and Gabriel - how about Gideon?
  • You like Gabriel and Daniel – points in favor of aforementioned Nathaniel and Ezekiel?
  • Other Biblical names that come to mind (ones that seem most likely to appeal in bold): Abel, Abner, Abram, Absalom, Adam, Amos, Asa, Asher, Benaiah, Boaz, Ehud, Eleazar, Eli, Elias/Elijah, Elisha, Ephraim, Habakkuk, Haggai, Hezekiah, Hosea, Jedidiah, Jeremiah, Jethro, Jonathan, Levi, Malachi, Micah, Nehemiah, Obadiah, Phineas, Samson, Saul, Seth, Zebulon, Zechariah – This is certainly not exhaustive, and I’m trying to only include names that I remember going with positively-viewed characters. Many of the heroes of the scriptures are complicated people though, who make mistakes and/or choices that would seem inappropriate in our culture today. If it were me choosing, I’d want to go through each character’s story and weigh how their actions mesh with the values I hope to impart. Of course, the Biblical characters aren’t the only namesakes worth considering; famous bearers of these names from history and literature and individuals from one’s own circle of friends and family obviously matter too. But you’ll want to decide whether you only care that the name’s from the Bible (and presumably doesn’t belong to someone evil, like Ahab) or whether the actual Biblical stories matter to you also.

 A few more general thoughts: since this is your first child, you may not yet be around a lot of little ones and aware of the contemporary name landscape. It sounds like you are inclined to "play it safe," and there's nothing wrong with that at all, but if you have any desire to be adventurous you might consider that names for North American children today are more diverse, cosmopolitan and creative than ever. Of course a lot of this depends on where you are exactly. I'd argue though that many of the names Miriam tossed out are very wearable. For example, Ari and Avi will be familiar to most Americans, since there have been high-profile individuals with these names in the news. (They will be more likely to read as specifically Jewish, which could be a good thing or might not feel so comfortable, depending on your community.) Lev and Zev with the fashionable V and Z sounds also seem very accessible, if less familiar. Most of these names are easy to spell, have an intuitive pronunciation (well, maybe Ari’s not as simple as I thought!), and are short and sweet if you do need to clarify.

It's also worth noting that more obscure names from the Hebrew scriptures appeal increasingly to the general population. Check out the statistics (in the Namipedia or NameVoyager on this site) of names like Asa (climbing back up the charts after disappearing mid-last century) and Asher (storming up the charts out of nowhere). My sense is that most parents picking these names are not primarily religiously inspired, rather more interested in invoking a mythologized American past (when such names were common), full of cowboys (not priests) named Levi and sturdy frontiersmen (not prophets) named Isaiah and Elijah. I’m sure its felicitous meaning (“happy”) has also contributed to sky-rocketing trajectory of Asher.

[Incidentally, the meaning of Asher’s name might not appeal quite so much if folks had in mind the context of the Biblical Asher’s life. Like all his brothers’ names, it’s a pawn in the power struggle between sisters Leah and Rachel, both married to Jacob and trying to establish their priority in his eyes through bearing him children. Leah is the older sister and first wife but despite her many sons suffers from knowing her husband doesn’t care for her; Rachel knows she is the favorite but feels her status is threatened during years of infertility. Leah’s children are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, and later Issachar, Zebulon, and a daughter Dinah. Both women resort to proxies to up “their” totals: Rachel “gives” Jacob her servant Bilhah as a wife and Bilhah has two sons Dan and Naphtali, then Leah “gives” her servant Zilpah to Jacob as a wife and Zilpah has two sons, Gad and Asher. Eventually Rachel has sons of her own, Joseph and Benjamin. Each of the boys’ names is a little expression of vindication and a barb at the competition (particularly Naphtali: “I have had a great struggle with my sister and I have won”). Of course Jacob’s favoritism continues on to the next generation, with Joseph – he of the coat of many colors – inspiring such jealousy among his brothers that they sell him into slavery in Egypt… The story of the children’s birth and naming is in Genesis 29-30, and Jacob’s blessing of his sons in his old age, Genesis 49, also lists them and describes how he sees their gifts, their failings, and their futures: e.g. “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power. Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it.” Obviously there is more to each of these characters than the sibling rivalry story – but it’s a strong and unpleasant enough theme that if I were to pick one of their names for my child, for future children I might avoid using another first name from this immediate family. Lest you worry though that the names of Reuben and his brothers immediately conjure the whole story, I should reassure you that while I remembered the general outlines, I did have to look up the details. I’m not sure how typical I am though.]

Anyway, I hope some of this is helpful. Good luck, and do let us know what you choose!

13
October 26, 2012 12:01 PM

Thank you for your insightful response.  You are spot on about our style and preferences!  The added dimension of Joseph's brothers in one I had not considered and is very helpful in framing why some names appeal above others.  As much as we love Benjamin, we would never have a Benjamin and a Reuben, for example.  No one tells you that in naming your first you will consider all potential future children as well!  How complicated.  Of course, we like biblical characters with, well, some character, and we don't hide from their imperfections (Rachel and Jonah being favorites and not always the most upstanding of Jews!).  Nathan or Nathaniel never made it to our lists, but I am adding them now.  They might be new favorites.  We will have to look over our lists in a few months and see what still appeals.  Thank you again, this was very helpful.

14
October 26, 2012 12:51 PM

I agree about the characters, by the way: I find their struggles, doubts and shortcomings as compelling as their successes, and I'd even say those contribute to making them worthy namesakes. It's a good thing for a child to know that he doesn't have to be absolutely perfect to make important contributions to his community and be an overall good person. :-)

15
October 26, 2012 5:26 PM

In keeping with how suggestible I am when it comes to getting songs stuck in my head, I was singing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for a while after reading the above comment. Specifically, I began with the song in which all of Jacob's sons are named and continued on from there. (I always have to use this song when trying to name all twelve sons.)

Reuben was the eldest of the children of Israel,
With Simeon and Levi the next in line
Napthali and Isaachar with Asher and Dan,
Zebulun and Gad took the total to nine
Jacob, Jacob and sons, Benjamin and Judah, which leaves only one
Jacob, Jacob and sons, Joseph -- Jacob's favourite son

Thanks for providing my morning mental entertainment :)

 

16
October 26, 2012 6:40 PM

Haha, thank you for the earworm, Karyn!  I use this song to remember their names too, but I can never remember the right order for Naphtali, Isaachar, Asher, Dan, Zebulun and Gad.  Still, they all fit in somewhere!

17
October 26, 2012 7:04 PM

My pleasure!

When I was in grade 8, Joseph was our school play, so I memorized the entire play. Even 16 years later, I can still sing the entire list of colours contained in the coat!