I love reading your articles on Kveller, and particularly enjoyed your lovely recent article in reply to a mom looking for Italian & Jewish baby names. I was wondering whether you would ever consider branching out from naming babies—and help a convert find the perfect name?
I’m a 33-year-old medic who is 2/3 of the way through conversion at my wonderful synagogue in London, but I’m absolutely stumped on a Jewish name (or two) that would work. I’m Polish by birth and upbringing. My grandmother hid her Jewish lineage, which means I didn’t find out she was Jewish until after her passing. Her name was Halina (Helena), which apparently means “light”; I’d love to find something that honors her name but isn’t too common (I have several friends named Liora, Or, etc.).
My first name (a Polish name) has an immediate Christian association so that makes things a bit clunky, and I’m taking my English/American partner’s surname (a rather ponderous hyphenated one) so this’ll already be a long international hodge-podge. I plan on making my Jewish name(s) a formal part of my name via an official name change, and so I’m really hoping to find something that sparkles and would also work in an Israeli context, if the time comes.
I love nature/natural-world themed names and would be very open to unisex names, or names of particularly feisty heroines from the Torah, though I’m hoping to avoid the “classics” (matriarchs, etc.). On the up side, I’m not scared of the ch as I’ve already had a lifetime of correcting people on my birth name so why stop now!
Any gentle guidance or harsh truths would be totally appreciated. Thank you for at least taking the time to consider my request.
Convert Without a Name
I’m humbled that you asked for my opinion on such a special naming occasion, and I’m inspired by your enthusiasm to become part of the Jewish people. Your letter was beautifully written with each word radiating excitement about your impending conversion. Not that I’m an official spokesperson on behalf of Jews everywhere (how cool would that be?), but I’m officially welcoming you to the tribe. And I’m declaring the Jewish people lucky to have someone who chooses our customs and community so affirmatively and who wants to do so with a name “that sparkles.” I’m determined to find a name worthy of this momentous rebirth of sorts.
I love the idea of honoring your grandmother Halina whose circumstances leading to her hidden Jewish identity were no doubt terrifying, or at the very least, a source of shame for your grandmother and others in her family. Her Jewish light so clearly lives in you, and it feels fitting—more than fitting—it feels essential that we incorporate the idea of “light” as you suggested, or that we play with the sound and letters of her name.
I don’t think you can satisfy all four of your criteria in one name, but perhaps the Kveller readers and I can lead you towards a double Hebrew name, which you seem interested in doing. Two out of four isn’t bad!
1. NAMES THAT MEAN LIGHT (BUT NOT ‘OR’ OR ‘LIORA’)
I like your thought to use a name that evokes that same meaning as Halina, and I’m giving a nod to your specific request to use neither Or nor Liora. The root word or is used in other names, as the concept of “light” is a beautiful attribute to add to a name. Are you open to other names with that root?
Eliora (God is light.)
Hila (Popular name in Israel. Means “halo.”)
Keren (Ray, as in ray of light.)
Meira (One who illuminates.)
Orielle (A twist on the more common Arielle.)
Orli or Orlee
2. NAMES THAT SOUND LIKE HALINA OR START WITH ‘H’
In some Jewish circles, a relative’s memory is honored by using a name that begins with the same letter or a name that sounds like the original name.
Chaya (Fits two categories. Sounds like Halina to me.)
Hadassah (Fits two categories)
Hannah (Fits two categories)
Hila (Fits two categories)
Ilana (Fits two categories. Can also be spelled Elana. Both sound like Halina.)
3. NATURE NAMES
Ava (Means life.)
Chaya (Means life.)
Ilana (Means oak tree.)
Tova (Means good. It’s not exactly a nature name, but it’s a name I love and nature is good, right?)
4. FEISTY TORAH HEROINES (BUT NOT THE CLASSICS)
Abra (Feminine form of Abraham, so in this case “Mother of many.”)
Avital (One of King David’s wives.)
Chana (Hebrew for Hannah, or use the H spelling as a nod to Halina as noted above.)
Chava (Hebrew for Eve, means living, and feels appropriate on many levels for a conversion.)
Hadassah (Hebrew for Esther)
I’ve narrowed down my personal choices to Hannah Orit, which gives you the H, the Jewish heroine, and the “light.” That is three out of four categories! If you want to try something even more blatantly Hebrew, perhaps Chaya Tova, which flows nicely and means “good life.”
OK, Kveller readers! Let’s welcome this enthusiastic almost-new-member of our tribe with the perfect name. What are your suggestions?