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?

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    @Adam It looks like he hyperlinked the word 'said'
    – Double AA
    Feb 19, 2012 at 23:05
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    @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, 2012 at 23:07
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    Okay thanks rabosai, now I finally learned how to view the edit history! Feb 19, 2012 at 23:34
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    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. Feb 19, 2012 at 23:46
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    What evidence do you have that people commonly do change their names? Note: adopting a Hebrew name where none was previously present is not the same thing. Jun 19, 2012 at 20:32

3 Answers 3


The Rambam (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 effect. 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.

  • I also like your answer, Vram. Mar 26, 2012 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, 2012 at 23:37

I don't know if it is in fact normative for converts today to change their names. I know at least a couple dozen converts across the spectrum, and the only one who made a name change didn't do anything legally -- she started using her middle name because she found her given name (Christina) awkward. 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.) So I dispute the premise of the question.

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 or academic publications, not so much.) Since there's not a strong need (else more people would do it) and there's no reason to think God cares about people's secular names, why do it when you'll use your (new) Hebrew name, not your secular name, in ritual contexts anyway? Isn't that enough of a new name?

  • 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. Mar 26, 2012 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. Mar 28, 2012 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)? Mar 28, 2012 at 18:57
  • @Monica_Cellio ... I'm not sure. Mar 29, 2012 at 19:08
  • Re Rus - see Malbim to Rus 1:4 - says that the Gemara is bothered why she didn't change her name. May 23, 2014 at 2:40

In my very limited Israeli experience, some converts change their names and some do not - but what's significant is that the choice to change the name has to do with a desire to symbolically disown your previous life, your previous identity. This often (though not always) coincides with:

  • Disconnecting from non-religious/non-Jewish friends.
  • Moving into some religious commune or family.
  • Moving someplace else in the country.
  • Changing one's appearance, e.g. growing facial hair.
  • Changing one's style of dress, to give clearer fashion markers of religious people.

Some of these also happen in the reverse direction when religious people become secular or atheist (Chozrim be-She'ela as opposed to Chozrim bi-Tshuva is a common term), although a name change is less common in that direction, I believe.

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