I’ve been thinking a lot about names lately. Anyone who’s seen me recently can probably guess why. For the rest of you, I’m carrying around a big belly and it’s getting close!
So as we’ve been entertaining names, these have been our considerations: Do we give our child a Jewish, but easy-to-pronounce, name? A Jewish, not-so-easy to pronounce name (because what the heck we like the name)? Or a Jewish and an English name? And if we do give two names, which one would we call the baby by?
You see where I’m going with this – typical diasporic dilemmas for the Modern Orthodox yid.
One time my husband Zvi (pronounced Tss Vee?) introduced himself to a lab partner in university as John, and his Asian peer introduced himself as Steve. As the prof went down the list and neither John nor Steve were called out, Zvi turned to the guy and said “my name is not really John” to which Steve responded “my name is not really Steve…” Ng and Zvi had a good laugh. Despite our multicultural and diverse setting here in Canada, the desire to not stand out seems to cross cultures and religions.
I have some friends that are known by their Hebrew name in their social circles, but at work they go by their English name. Hence if these worlds were to collide, it might get a bit confusing. I also know a lot of people who don’t have a given English name, but nevertheless make one up for their job, or at least when they go to Starbucks. And some just go by their Hebrew name and, if needed, correct people until they get it right.
My theory is that the Jewish naming convention largely depends on the generation and era.
Our grandparents’ generation suffered a historical trauma that led them to call their children by gentile names in order to discreetly blend into society. But it seems like our parents’ generation reclaimed the Jewish pride, and with much less to fear, reversed the trend and called their children by Hebrew names (i.e., Rosalie and Alan had Zvi, and Colette and Joe had Sarit) in line with the Jewish concept that “when the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, they kept their Hebrew names.” Perhaps to prevent assimilation, to keep their spirit alive, or both.
But now, as the generation who has entered university and the workplace with our sometimes difficult-to-pronounce Hebrew names, many of us contemplate calling our children by English names, not necessarily out of a desire to “blend in” (although this might play a factor) but for the practical reason that having an English name in university or in the workplace is just simply easier to go by.
Personally, at work I always go by Sarit (sometimes confused for Sayrit), my one and only Israeli/Hebrew name. And yet, here I am contemplating names for the next generation as I once again try to consider how to strike a balance between the modern and the orthodox.
Till next time!
-Sarit, the Working Yid