Why is it that many names of Tanoim and Amoroim are not commonly used? These were big Tzadikkim yet their names are almost unheard of. For example Tarfon, Chisda, Pupa, Avtalion, etc.


4 Answers 4


In general, names go in and out of fashion. Consider how today Avraham, Moshe, and David are common names, but we find only one example of each in the Gemara (respectively: Gittin 50a [actually it's given as Avram], Bava Basra 174b/Erchin 23a, and Yevamos 115b according to the Rosh's version). In fact, from Moshe Rabbeinu I don't think we find another Moshe (except for the one mentioned in the Gemara) until R' Moshe Gaon, in the 9th century.

So in the same way, it could simply be that some Aramaic names (for example, Abba) stayed in fashion, while others (such as Chisda) didn't. As another example, I see where the name Huna was in use among German Jewry in the 18th and early 19th centuries (in Bayreuth and Hamburg), but I've never heard of it being used nowadays.

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    Regarding 'Moshe': I heard that unlike nowadays when we reuse famous people's names extensively, way back when if a person was famous enough (like Moshe or David) then their name got retired (like jersey numbers on modern sports teams).
    – Double AA
    Feb 19, 2012 at 23:53
  • Many people I know are named "Mar" or "Mori".
    – DanF
    Feb 21, 2019 at 19:17
  • I know someone whose father's name was changed from Avram to Avraham because "Avram isn't a Jewish name" Nov 14, 2019 at 17:17

I've heard it quoted in the name of R' Avigdor Miller that many names in the Talmud were nicknames or derivations of Hebrew names -- e.g. "Ashi" from Yishaya. Some are clearly nicknames -- "Issi" was a form of "Yosef."

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    It's not Ashi, it's Asheh. Jan 9, 2012 at 3:20
  • @HachamGabriel - Huh?
    – Dave
    Jan 29, 2012 at 20:05
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    @Dave the correct pronunciation of the name is Ashe. Jan 29, 2012 at 20:15
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    @HachamGabriel Says you. I need to look it up, but I remember from my Aramaic courses in college that there is at least one opinion that every place that mainstream "Yeshivish" pronunciation is "ei" (with a Tzerei) at the end of a word in Aramaic, such as masc. pl., it should really be with a Hirik.
    – Seth J
    Feb 6, 2012 at 21:42
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    @SethJ I believe I heard it from R' Musafi and R; Meir Eliyahu. Feb 7, 2012 at 2:48

Probably for the same reason you won't find too many Velvels and Berels in Yemen, or Saadias and Rahamims in New Square.

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    Although many names are common? Like Akiva, Hillel, Shmaya Oct 6, 2010 at 13:20
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    The names you mentioned (and similar ones) follow the patterns of Aramaic or Greek language, and therefore would not have much currency in countries where those languages are not spoken. By contrast, names such as Hillel and Shmaya conform with standard Hebrew, and could have universal appeal. (That might explain why "Gamliel" is still in limited use.) Another factor might be that names of "folk heroes" (for lack of a better term) like Akiva and Hillel would naturally be more popular than other archaic names.
    – Dave
    Oct 6, 2010 at 13:40
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    It's perfectly reasonable not to have Velvels and Berels in Yemen, but I do know at least one Saadya in Chassidic family.
    – Seth J
    Feb 6, 2012 at 21:40
  • @SethJ, as do I. I think that this answer is written on a false premise, that Ashkenazim won't use Arabic or Ladino names and Sephardim, Yiddish, Russo-Polish, or German ones. Mar 26, 2015 at 17:06

One of the great Tanna'im was Rabbi Yishmael. Unfortunately, a few centuries later, the descendants of the Biblical Yishmael were violently converted to a new "Abrahamic" religion.

From that point on, the name Yishmael was associated with that religion, so that even someone who may descend from this holy Tanna won't name his Jewish son Yishmael.

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    'Tain't so simple as that. There were indeed several rabbanim around the Mediterranean basin (Spain, Provence, Italy, Crete and Egypt) who were named Yishmael - and all of them lived long after the advent of Islam. You can find details about them in Otzar Hagedolim 6:33-34.
    – Alex
    Jan 30, 2012 at 6:48
  • @Alex cool info, thanks. How "long" after is long?
    – user1095
    Jan 30, 2012 at 8:13
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    Of the seven bearers of this name listed there, one is from around 1300, a couple of others in the 1400s and 1500s, and two are of unknown date (one is after Rif, who passed away in 1103. Since the founder of Islam lived in the 600s (early era of the Geonim), then yes, all of them are pretty long afterwards.
    – Alex
    Jan 30, 2012 at 16:31
  • This answer could benefit from some sources being cited
    – Lee
    Feb 16, 2023 at 6:24

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