Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

Go Moe!

Thinking outside the Jacob-and-Hannah box for Jewish baby names

Print Email

According to the Social Security Administration, the top five most popular names for boys born in 2008 were from Jewish Scripture: Jacob, Michael, Ethan, Joshua, and Daniel. The administration’s list of the top 100 names for girls includes such vintage American Jewish immigrant names as Sophie, Abigail, Hannah, Ella, Natalie, Lily, Lillian, Evelyn, and Rachel. And if you throw a bulkie roll in any Schechter Day School cafeteria, you’ll hit a Shoshana, a Sadie, a Nathan, an Ari, or a Ben. My friend Judith calls such old-timey monikers “nose-hair names”; my friend Lynn calls them “Yahrzeit wall names.” (When I was newly pregnant and sitting in shul, I kept zoning out, staring at the names on the plaques around me: ooh, how about Rose? Iris? Harry? Isaiah?)

Some Hebrew names that are still uncommon in the larger culture are gaining traction in the Jewish community. For example, “Matan,” which means gift, has cropped up more and more. One mother of a Matan says, “My theory is that because more people are having children later, after struggles with infertility or as single parents or in same-sex relationships, having a child easily isn’t a given. So, a name which actually means ‘gift’ is going to have special resonance.” But most of us secular Jews tend to fall back on snooze-inducing, overly common names. Only the Orthodox community seems to regularly pop out a wide variety of Yiddish and obscure names derived from religious texts. Come on, other Jews! Start combing through Jewish texts and cultural history to come up with some snazzier stuff! Here’s a head start—as well as a list of some names we don’t want so much to promulgate.


    Boy names:

  1. Akiba – hero!
  2. Ammiel – one of the 12 spies Moses sent to Canaan
  3. Amos – after the Hebrew prophet, and writer Oz
  4. Barak – hero general and early feminist who aided Deborah in the book of Judges. Also Hebrew for “lightning.” And so oddly presidential! A winner!
  5. Bernard – for jurist Berenson. And calling a little boy “Bernie” is adorable.
  6. Emile – after pioneering sociologist Durkheim
  7. Felix – after the composer Mendelssohn, whose family converted to Christianity, but who retained a sense of Jewish identity
  8. Gaddiel – a scout sent to Canaan
  9. Hosea – Emo prophet who moaned a lot, Top Chef winner Rosenberg
  10. Leonard – after Bernstein, and how cute a nickname is “Lenny?” (Also: Nice for Law & Order fans.)
  11. Levi – for the tribe of Israel or the denim manufacturer, not the Palin-impregnator
  12. Micah – Biblical prophet
  13. Moe – for Berg, a Major League catcher and 1923 magna cum laude Princeton grad who spoke Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, German and Sanskrit. (One teammate said, “He can speak seven languages, but he can’t hit in any of them.”) After his baseball career, he became a spy for the United States.
  14. Moses – duh
  15. Philo – aka Philo of Alexandria, Hellenistic Jewish philosopher
  16. Sandy (Koufax) – baseball legend
  17. Shadrach, Mishach, Abednego – three friends of Daniel (of lion’s den fame), figures in seminal Beastie Boys liturgy
  18. Theodor – after Zionist Herzl
  19. Tola – a son of Issachar in the book of Genesis, one of the 70 people who went to Egypt with Jacob, and also one of the judges of Israel
  20. Walter – after literary critic Benjamin and hangdog actor Matthau
    Girl names:

  1. Adiella – Hebrew for “God’s adornment”
  2. Ahinoam – Saul’s wife (literally “pleasant”)
  3. Betty – for groundbreaking feminist Friedan
  4. Frida – for artist Kahlo, who affiliated herself with Judaism even if she wasn’t technically Jewish
  5. Golda – for Meir (I already know a few baby Goldies, but hey, there’s room for more!)
  6. Henrietta – for Zionist Szold
  7. Hepzibah – wife of king Hezekiah, Hebrew for “my desire is within her” – Hep would be a pretty punk-rock nickname!
  8. Ida – for Macy’s co-owner and Titanic victim Straus (her husband Isidor, who helped found the Educational Alliance in New York City, also has a name worth reviving)
  9. Mehitabel – wife of Haddad, king of Edom, and also star of undeservedly forgotten Archy and Mehitabel comic strip – her nickname could be Bella
  10. Noa – common Israeli girl’s name (for what it’s worth, I wanted to name one of my daughters Noa or Orly, another common Israeli name, but my husband insisted those were names for a boy and an airport)
  11. Sarai – Sarah’s original name
  12. Zillah – mother of ironworker Tubal-cain and Naamah in the book of Genesis

    Boy names:

  1. Abner – Comic book hick, bad guy in the book of Samuel
  2. Absalom – Bad son, murderous brother, associated with heavily allegoric Faulkner title
  3. Aspatha, Parshandatha, Poratha – Haman’s sons, whose names sound like Indian appetizers
  4. Bugsy – Siegel, jumpy gangster
  5. Bukki – leader of the tribe of Dan in the book of Numbers, sounds like bukkake, a form of porn
  6. Buz – Avram’s nephew in the book of Genesis. Pronounced “booze.”
  7. Guni – a son of Naphtali in Genesis, another of the 70 people who went to Egypt with Jacob. In English, reminiscent of classic 80s Sean Astin and Josh Brolin pre-teen adventure film.
  8. Jeezer – son of Gilead in the book of Numbers
  9. Mahershalalhashbaz – Isaiah 8:1, 8:3. The child of Isaiah and “the prophetess.”
  10. Mash and Uz – son of Aram mentioned in the book of Genesis; in English they sound like symptoms of a skin disease
  11. Mushi – descendent of the house Levi in Exodus. Sounds like tasty Chinese take-out.
  12. Methuseleh – because other children would call him “Meth”
  13. Muppim (or Shuphim) – eighth son of Benjamin in Genesis. Sounds like a friend of Ernie and Bert.
  14. Nimrod – Canaanite name inexplicably common in modern-day Israel. We can let them keep it, since it means a doofus in American slang.
  15. Onan – famous Biblical masturbator. My husband informs me that there is a generator company called Cummins Onan. Someone there must have a good sense of humor.
  16. Phallu – son of Reuben in Genesis, another person who went to Egypt with Jacob, also sounds like a Freudian symbol
  17. Putiel – father of Eleazar’s wife in the book of Exodus, and according to Rashi, another name for Jethro. Hebrew for “God is my fatness.” Nickname would be Poot, slang for a fart.
  18. Roman – for Polanski and for the bad prophet on HBO’s Big Love
  19. Sabbatai – for false messiah Zvi
  20. Shelumiel – character in Parshat Naso, possible origin of the word “schlemiel”
  21. Susi – descendant of Manasseh in the book of Numbers. Reminiscent of Johnny Cash hit.
  22. Zaphnathpaaneah – Joseph’s Egyptian name in the book of Genesis
    Girl names:

  1. Atara – popular Israeli name, sounds like Atari, acceptable for hardcore gamer parents
  2. Ayn – for snarly objectivist Rand
  3. Diklah – modern Israeli name, sounds schmuck-ish
  4. Gomer – wife of Hosea in the book of the same name, prostitute, unfortunate associations with Jim Nabors
  5. Keren-happuch – literally “horn of the face-paint” or “cosmetic-box,” is the name of Job’s third daughter, and though she was born after his life turned around, who wants to be associated with Job?
  6. Lo-ruhamah – literally “Unloved” or “Pitied” – a daughter of Hosea. Hosea was seriously a happy guy.
  7. Puah – Heroic midwife in the Passover story. When I said her name to my seven-year-old, she burst into sniggers. Exactly.
Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

Buz – Avram’s nephew in the book of Genesis. Pronounced “booze.”

– I think I know why I was named this now haha ;)

Klasse Eintrag – mehr davon.

Compassionate for the critique, but I’m rattling caressive the new Zune, and trust this, as advantageously as the superior reviews otherwise get holographic, testament ameliorate you resolve if it’s the reactionary prize for you.

Thanks for revealing your ideas. Something is that learners have a solution between fed student loan plus a private student loan where it can be easier to select student loan debt consolidation loan than in the federal student loan.

I have read a person’s article. It’s actually helpful. We will be able to benefit significantly from the item. Fluent publishing style in addition to vivid words and phrases make all of us readers benefit from reading. I will share your opinions through my mates.

We do love appointing your corporation. Your net layout is amazingly easy around the eye. You employ a great spot to shop. I genuinely enjoyed navigating plus ordering from your site. It is incredibly, very easy to use and simplified. Great job on the fabulous web page.

Many factors behind falling excited about this report. The views were very well defined and persuasive. After reading the article, I learned a lot which is very useful to my upcoming life.

Let us not forget that Reagan’s future vp (Bush) and cia chief (Casey) met with the Ayatolla Khomeini behind the back of the then-current Carter administration (treason) and arranged for Iran to keep the American hostages until after the election. In return Iran got, at the very least, a conduit thru which to illegally receive missiles and other armaments–which came to light when traitor Ollie North got busted taking the missile $$$ and giving it to friends in Central America who turned out, naturally enough, to be drug smugglers USA-bound. Ah, the good old days…

Hello my loved one! I wish to say that this article is amazing, great written and come with almost all vital infos. I would like to see more posts like this .

Excellent write-up. Thanks meant for sharing this level of detail. It’s certainly of great help me. From your own article, I know far more in that respect. I will certainly continue watching your content.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Go Moe!

Thinking outside the Jacob-and-Hannah box for Jewish baby names

More on Tablet:

A Tale of Three Twitter Feeds: Hamas Tweets in Arabic, English, and Hebrew

By Aaron Magid — Analysis of the social-media messaging of Hamas’ military wing reveals distinct voices for the West, the Arab Middle East, and Israel