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Choosing Jewish Baby Names: What Parents Need to Know

Corey Kagan Whelan
June 16, 2015

Deciding on the right Jewish baby names takes a bit of research, a lot of soul searching and just a touch of divine inspiration.

For parents looking to honor their faith, recognize their family or simply find the perfect name with biblical roots, choosing from the hundreds of Jewish baby names out there can be fun, but also challenging.

"Your name is never a coincidence. Names are the last form of prophecy existing in current times and an opportunity for divine inspiration to open up," says Rabbi Benjamin Blech, co-author of "Your Name Is Your Blessing." "When parents decide on their child's name, that name bears the potential for what the child can be and is the key to their soul and personality." And of course, everyone in your family, especially the happy grandparents, is bound to have an opinion about your baby's name.

"Finding a meaningful name always comes down to the individual family. It's very common, especially among Ashkenazi Jews, to name a baby after a deceased relative," says Molly Tolsky, editor of the Jewish parenting website Kveller, which features a comprehensive baby name finder for Jewish baby names, in both English and Hebrew. "Many parents hope that in receiving the name of an admired family member, the child will emulate in life the virtues of the deceased namesake. Some people use the actual name of the relative, whereas others find a different name with the same first initial or go with a name that has the same meaning," she adds.

Prospective parents might choose a Jewish baby name because its meaning resonates deeply, it reminds them of nature or they simply love the sound it makes. "Parents should look for opportunities to be inspired by the right choice," says Blech. "Reading Jewish baby name books and being exposed to lots of options will make a gong go off, because the name speaks to the inner soul and subconscious."

Here are some popular Jewish baby name choices to help you get started:

Girls' Names

  1. Aviva (Ah-VEE-va)
    Aviva translates into "springtime," but it has also been known to equate to "innocent."
  2. Chaya (HI-a)
    This name is built upon the Hebrew word Chai and means "life."
  3. Elishevah (Eh-le-SHEH-vah)
    Elishevah was Aaron's biblical wife, and the name translates into "God is my oath."
  4. Eliora (E-lee-OR-a)
    If you like the sentiment "God is my light," then you may want to consider Eliora.
  5. Gabriella (Ga-bree-EL-a)
    Similarly, Gabriella translates to "God is my strength."
  6. Esther (ES-ter)
    The biblical queen who saved the Jews of Persia, Esther means "star" in Persian.
  7. Hannah (HAN-a)
    Hannah was the mother of the prophet Samuel in the Bible, and her name was attached to the meaning "God has favored me."
  8. Ilana (i-LAN-a)
    Meaning "tree," Ilana is often given to girls born on "The New Year of the Trees" holiday.
  9. Miriam (MIR-ee-am)
    The older sister of Moses and Aaron, Miriam means "rebellious" and is the forerunner of May, the Anglican version of the name.
  10. Peninnah (Pi-NEE-na)
    Peninnah is thought to be a form of "jewel" or "precious stone."
  11. Rachel (RAY-chel)
    Jacob's favorite wife, Rachel translates into "ewe," a female sheep.
  12. Shanna (SHA-na). This pretty name is likely derived from the name Shoshana, which refers to "lily" or "rose" in Hebrew.

Boys' Names

  1. Aaron (AH-ron)
    Aaron was Israel's first high priest and the brother of Moses.
  2. Adam (AD-am)
    Adam is cited as the first human being in the Old Testament.
  3. Benjamin (BEN-ja-min)
    As the youngest son of Jacob, Benjamin means "son of my right hand."
  4. Caleb (CAY-leb)
    He was a spy for Moses in the Bible, but today Caleb is acknowledged as meaning "wholehearted."
  5. David (DAY-vid)
    David was ancient Israel's greatest king and is widely known for defeating Goliath. The name comes from the Hebrew word for "beloved."
  6. Dov (Duhv)
    Slightly unusual, the name Dov means "bear."
  7. Jacob (JAY-cub)
    The biblical Jacob was born holding his twin brother's heel. As such, the name translates into "supplanter," or "holder of the heel."
  8. Jordan (JAWR-dan)
    Popular for boys and girls, the name means to descend or flow downward, much like the Jordan River.
  9. Noah (NO-ah)
    Meaning rest and comfort, the name Noah was the most popular boy's name in 2013 and 2014, according to the Social Security Administration.
  10. Nathaniel (Na-THAN-ee-al)
    The modern name Nathaniel comes from the Hebrew Natanel, which means "God gave."
  11. Samuel (SAM-u-el)
    Samuel can mean "name is God" or "heard by God."
  12. Zachary (ZAH-ka-ree)
    From the Hebrew Zachariah, who was a biblical prophet, Zachary means "to remember God."

And check out these 20 Top Hebrew Baby Names.

Corey Kagan Whelan is a freelance writer specializing in all things mom living in New York. Her twins' names were spontaneously chosen after reading 2,000 of the most popular baby books available and reflect both their Jewish and Irish roots.

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