Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What's in a name?

Names are really important in Judaism (if only so that we can identify eachother). According to some commentator whose name I cannot remember, the reason that the Hebrews were taken out of Egypt early was because they were assimilating too much, taking Egyptian names. Same deal with the Maccabees, they were really upset when Jews began taking Greek names, and would sneak into people's houses to perform the first pirate circumcisions on their unsuspecting kids. Yeah, we have an awesome history.

Within Judaism there are a variety of different naming practices. Ashkenazim name their children after people who have passed away, in the hopes of transferring the positive characteristics from the ancestor onto the child. One caveat is that if the person died young the name is often changed slightly, as in the case of my good friend's little brother: from Asher to Ashrei. Sephardim/Mizrachim on the other hand have a different tradition, in many cases the son is named the reverse of the father: ie Avi ben-Yosef's son would be Yosef ben-Avi.

My name, for example is Rivka Feiga. For those who are unaware, this name is SUPER-shtetl (if you need a definition, check out David Kelsey's comparison of Ghetto to Shtetl). This name would be fine except for the obvious:

1) It makes me look like an escapee from Beis Yaakov*
2) Feiga's nickname is Feigele (or little bird). What does this mean? Essentially my parents gave me the middle name for the Yiddish equivalent of "fag." Thanks guys.

Mercifully, they decided against giving me "Feigle" for a first name. Yeah, it rhymes with "bagel" and has the same awful nickname. Additionally, I am named after my great grandmother, a woman who ruled her husband with an iron fist. Which brings me to the question, are names deterministic? Am I bossy because of my name, or are they unrelated factors?

At least I'm not Ateret Hodaya. Jack's Shack reproduced (the good) part of an old article from Haaretz on how Israelis name their kids. I was born around Pesach, I wonder what my name would have been? Thankfully my parents (who are really lovely people) gave me a pretty standard biblical name, and not Shiloh, a la the Jolie-Pitt baby. Zen Angel agrees with me that it is a pretty awful name, but I'm not sure that I love the name "Damaris" as an alternative. Also, it is pretty clearly Christian.

I kind of want to name my first son Mischa after my (Russian) Grandfather. I know that Mischa is a nickname, but I don't like Michael, or the hebraicized version. All my significant others thus far have vetoed that idea. Any takers?

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I knew a Misha who was really just Misha. He was a hottie. Sadly, also my professor's son.