I love names. I love names so much that I regularly peruse the Social Security Index that tracks name popularity by year. I gave my three kids Jewish names (with periodic input from my husband; he never suggested any, he just repeatedly vetoed my choices). To do that, I turned to books (we are “the people of the book,” after all). Here are some of my favorites, and a few new ones that have come out since then:
1. “The New Jewish Baby Book: Names, Ceremonies & Customs – A Guide for Today’s Families” by Anita Diamant
My husband likes to joke (truthfully) that I didn’t buy any pregnancy or baby-care books. I practically raised my younger brother so I felt pretty confident about my ability to take care of an infant. The one area I did feel insecure about was the Jewish ritual aspect (my parents grew up under Stalin; they didn’t exactly have a lot of bris ceremony wisdom to pass on).
So I got the Diamant book, since it covered all of that, plus Jewish baby names. The selection here isn’t as broad as in books solely dedicated to names, but it’s adequate, with a few words describing each name’s meaning. As a bonus, it’s by the woman who wrote “The Red Tent”!
2. “A Dictionary of Jewish Names and Their History” by Benzion C. Kaganoff
No mere listing of names! This book, instead, is a history of Jewish naming practices through the centuries, combined with fun chapters revealing the longest Jewish family name (Katzenellenbogen), a detailed path of how names pick up other languages as Jews move through the world, names based on professions, passages where names appear in the bible, and even pronunciation guides. In other words, it’s a book you should read before you have children, or after they’re grown—because you won’t have time while you’re actually raising them.
3. “Best Baby Names for Jewish Children” by Alfred J. Kolatch
I like the phrasing of this title. It’s not a book of Jewish names, per se—it’s a book of names for Jewish children. (For instance, Alexander, a very common Jewish name now, is actually a Greek name.) This tome is a compendium of Jewish name books published over the last 50 years, as fashions change and names go in and out of style. The entire book is just an alphabetized list of names, with a short definition of each. There is very little historical context, but some names are offered in their English, Hebrew, and Yiddish variations.
4. “The Complete Book of Hebrew Baby Names” by Smadar Shir Sidi
The goal of this book is to help parents think beyond the American-approved Jewish names when it comes to coming up with a Hebrew name for their child, and also to make suggestions for those who never got a Hebrew one and would like to pick their own, as well as for those who wish to update their Old World Hebrew name to something more contemporary and/or Israeli.
5. “Your Name is Your Blessing: Hebrew Names and Their Mystical Meanings” by Rabbi Benjamin Blech and Elaine Blech
Not merely a list and not a historical chronicle, either, this book uses self-described secrets of the Gematria to explain how a name is the key to your child’s neshama (soul), and offers the biblical sources, phrases, and blessings that all converge in the given moniker to give a name its power. Names, it says, are not used for identification, but creation. When you give your child a name, you create the person they’re going to be. (No pressure.)
6. “Jewish Baby Names: Names From Judaism for Boys and Girls” by Jeffrey Fisher
This book doesn’t have separate lists for each gender, merely an alphabetical scroll with a brief definition. The best part is it’s free on Amazon Prime. (Obvious and offensive joke about cheap Jews redacted.)
So, what did you name your kids? And how did you pick them?