Take the 2-minute tour ×
Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller said that it used to be that gerim (converts) and baalei teshuvah (repentants) who had been given non-Jewish names did not change their names when they became part of the Jewish nation. However, nowadays, that is no longer the case, and so it is normal presently in most cases for gerim to become Avraham, Ovadyah, etc.

Avram became Avraham, and Sarai became Sarah.

Why did this custom change, and why don't converts Hebraize their existing English name and add a letter of God's name the way that Abraham our Patriarch did?

Also, why do gerim nowadays become Avraham, etc., because if there is nothing inherently wrong with using non-Jewish names back then, so what is wrong with using them now?

share|improve this question
    
Can you source this saying of R Miller? –  Double AA Feb 19 '12 at 22:33
2  
@Adam It looks like he hyperlinked the word 'said' –  Double AA Feb 19 '12 at 23:05
1  
@Adam Also, consider changing the title to be more specific, like: Converts' retaining their Non-Jewish names, or: Name changes post-conversion. –  Double AA Feb 19 '12 at 23:07
1  
Okay thanks rabosai, now I finally learned how to view the edit history! –  Adam Mosheh Feb 19 '12 at 23:34
1  
And it is clear from the gemara that certain tannaim kept their Greek or Roman names and just Hebraized them. Nowadays most American Jews don't go by their Hebrew names. Yesh lehatzdik minhag zu. –  Adam Mosheh Feb 19 '12 at 23:46
show 18 more comments

2 Answers

The Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva 2:5 writes:

מדרכי התשובה להיות השב צועק תמיד לפני ה', ...ומשנה שמו, כלומר שאני אחר ואיני אותו האיש שעשה אותן המעשים

It seems from the Rambam that changing one's name has some sort of psychological affect. I understand it as a constant reminder that you aren't the same person as you were before; there's something different about you now. Similarly, a convert would be constantly reminded of his new way of life by his new name.

share|improve this answer
    
I also like your answer, Vram. –  Adam Mosheh Mar 26 '12 at 20:13
    
It seems it is not just different (generally), but that the person is disconnected from his past sins. But what does that have to do with a convert? Moreover, the Rambam (ostensibly) gets this from the gemara in Rosh HaShanah 16b but there the context is not about sin at all, but about removing an evil decree (for which a name change is effective) –  Curiouser Jun 19 '12 at 23:37
add comment

I don't know if it is in fact normative for converts today to change their names. As for converts in torah, Avraham and Sarah changed their names but Yitro and Ruth did not, so it seems like there's precedent either way. (Also, God changed Avraham and Sarah's names; they didn't decide that themselves.)

As for why people might choose not to do this today: changing one's legal name is a hassle! If it's not part of marriage then you have to go to court, and then you have to update a bunch of legal documents and employer records and insurance policies and all sorts of other stuff. If you've published under the old name, then you have to figure out how to make that transition too if it still matters to you. (Blogs are easy; prior print publications, not so much.) If there's not a strong need, why do it when you'll use your (new) Hebrew name, not your legal name, in ritual contexts anyway? Isn't that enough of a new name?

share|improve this answer
    
I like your answer, good thinking. Look at what I commented on my question in which I quoted Reb Moshe. In a post- Matan Torah world, I think he expands on the point you suggested. –  Adam Mosheh Mar 26 '12 at 20:13
    
However, on the other hand, just because something is difficult doesn't necessarily mean that it is not something that Hashem wants people to do. Avraham's name was initially Avram, after all. –  Adam Mosheh Mar 28 '12 at 18:02
    
@AdamMosheh, God commanded Avra(ha)m's name change; is there any reason to believe that God wants us to change names on our own? Or that He cares about secular names (when we have both those and Hebrew names)? –  Monica Cellio Mar 28 '12 at 18:57
    
@Monica_Cellio ... I'm not sure. –  Adam Mosheh Mar 29 '12 at 19:08
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.