Last summer, my colleague Daci noticed that her daughter’s camp list was full of what you’d call “Jewish grandparent names.” These names — not necessarily Hebrew ones — used to be more common for septuagenarian and octogenarian Jews than with adorable little 7-year-olds. But when we shared this darling video with a sampling of said grandparent names, many parents commented that those were the names they had given their own babies and toddlers.
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The reason for that is probably fairly simple: Ashkenazi Jews traditionally name their kids after deceased relatives, most often grandparents and great-grandparents. Which means that Jewish names are, in a way, cyclical in their popularity. My own two boys are named after their Jewish great and great-great-grandfathers.
In fact, when I first gave my oldest his name, I thought I was doing something special — giving him an old and rare (and beautiful!) name. Imagine my horror when I took him to the playground for the first time, only to hear his name everywhere like an echo.
Here are 18 Jewish grandparent names that seem to be rising in popularity with new parents — at least in the Jewish spaces I frequent. And yes, my sons’ names are both on this list.
1. Ruben — Reuven was Jacob’s oldest son and probably also your zayde.
2. Goldie — a diminutive for Golda, Yiddish for gold. Some famous Goldas and Goldies include the amazing Goldie Hawn, Golda Meir and Golde from “Fiddler on the Roof.” I honestly adore this shiny name for a baby.
3. Theodore — Theodore means gift of God in Greek and aside from being the name of the founder of Zionism (Theodore Herzl), it’s also a super common Jewish grandparent name, even if it doesn’t have Jewish origins. Nowadays, it’s an oft-heard name at JCCs across the country, especially its nickname, Theo.
4. Ruth — Ruth is the biblical heroine of the Book of Ruth, traditionally read of Shavuot. There are so many incredible Ruths, including, of course, the notorious RBG (may her memory be a blessing) and Dr. Ruth. If you’re looking for an iconic Jewish name, look no further.
5. Solomon/Shlomo — The biblical king who built the first Temple is definitely worthy of naming a baby after, and you can always go with its diminutive — Sol. Some famous Jewish Solomons and Sols include the British pianist Solomon and artist Sol LeWitt.
6. Esther — The title queen of the Book of Esther and the heroine of the Purim story, Esther is definitely a badass Jewess to name your kids after. If your Jewish grandma wasn’t an Esther, she probably had some Esther friends. Chrissy Teigen recently named her daughter Esti, an adorable diminutive of the name.
8. Leon — The lion is an important symbol in Judaism, and that’s why there are a lot of Jewish Leons and Leos, even if the name itself comes from Greek (again, like Theodore). Some famous Jewish Leons include former French prime minister and Buchenwald survivor Léon Blum, artist Leon Berkowitz and Nobel winning physicist Leon Lederman.
9. Barbra/Barbara — Can you believe that Barbra Streisand is 80?? Barbara or Barbra if you’re fancy (as Babs is) is another one of those names with Greek origins — it means stranger. But there are so many iconic Jewish Barbaras — like Barbara Walters and Barbara Boxer.
10. Ethel – Ethel is not a Hebrew name, but an old English word that means “noble.”. I bet you know a lot of Jewish aunts and grandmothers named Ethel, though. And Shira Haas is about to play one amazing, almost forgotten Ethel, Jewish Canadian conductor Ethel Stark, in an upcoming film.
11. Zelda — Aa game beloved by Jewish gamers like me, Zelda is actually the female version of the Yiddish name Selig, which means blessed, or happy. Famous Jewish Zeldas includes the Israeli poet known only by that first name, activist and actress Zelda Rubinstein (“Poltergeist,” “Picket Fences”) and socialite Zelda Kaplan, the subject of the HBO documentary “Her Name Is Zelda.”.
12. Larry — While Larry is not a Hebrew name, it has become synonymous with kvetchy Jewish old mean, thanks to “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” creator and star Larry David (and maybe also Larry King of blessed memory?). Still, the name is making a comeback, and we can’t kvetch about that.
13. Irving — Why do so many old Jewish men have this Scottish first name? We’d love to know. Either way, there are too many iconic Jewish Irvings to enumerate, but perhaps the most famous is composer Irving Berlin.
14. Edith — Edith comes from an old English word for “rich” and “happy” — and is similar to the Hebrew name Idit which means “elite”. I for one adore its diminutive, Edie. Some famous Jewish Ediths include Edie Windsor, whose lawsuit helped make gay marriage legal!
15. Perla — There are lots and lots of Jewish Pearls and Perlas (or more rarely, the Hebrew Pnina, my lovely mama’s name, who was also named after a Jewish grandmother). It’s a dainty, beautiful name for a baby.
16. Marvin — From the Welsh Merwyn, this name is so popular among a certain generation of Jews, and it’s honestly so cute. Love a little Jewish baby Marv.
17. Lenny/Leonard — Here’s another one of those lion names that Jews love so much. From Lenny Kravitz to Leonard Nimoy and Leonard Cohen, there are a lot of incredible Jewish Leonards to name your baby after, aside from your ancestors. For a girl, Lenny or Lainey works just as well.
18. Arthur/Artie/Art — From Arthur Miller, to Arthur Rubinstein, to Art Garfunkel and famed clarinetist Artie Shaw, so many Jewish Arthurs are masters of the arts (maybe why that is literally part of their name).