I'd seen some poster that said it's horribly wrong to ever give your kid a non-Jewish/non-Hebrew name. Is that the norm?

  • Do you mean in addition to a Hebrew name or instead of one? I've wondered about the latter case for a while. Some generally-accepted "Hebrew" names (yours, for example!) express nice values. But others are just words, and may not even be Hebrew. Some are Yiddish, Slavic, or Greek, for example. The Bible and the Talmud are full of respected people having names that have nothing to do with Hebrew. So, I've always wondered why we particularly need nowadays to have a special "Hebrew" name.
    – Isaac Moses
    Dec 16, 2009 at 15:14

5 Answers 5


For plenty of good Jews, their English name is the English cognate of their Hebrew name (Solomon/Shlomo, Avraham/Abraham, etc.). The letterhead of ultra-right-wing Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum of Satmar read "Joel Teitelbaum." If someone is Solomon/Shlomo, no matter which they go by, that just goes into a Halachic document as "Shlomo"; Solomon doesn't even need to be mentioned.

Plenty of good Jews go their entire lives by a Hebrew name, but have an English (non-Biblical) name on their legal documents, for convenience. There's a very famous American rabbi "Moshe" today who's legally "Max."

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein says it's preferable, but not absolutely required, to give some sort of Jewish name. When people named their kids "Alexander" out of respect to Alexander the Great (just Alexander, no Hebrew name or anything), they overrode a preference, but not a law.

He also says that the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt needed to keep their Hebrew names, as before Judaic Law was handed down at Sinai, all they had was Hebraic culture. Once the law came around, we have that instead.

  • 4
    Interesting stuff! Could use some citations, when you get a chance, especially for your first point.
    – Isaac Moses
    Dec 16, 2009 at 15:48
  • Isaac, you mean more citations about going by Joshua/Yehoshua, Solomon/Shlomo, etc.? Rabbi J. David Bleich has a shiur on YUTorah where he says you'd just write the Hebrew name in a Get. Furthermore, even if someone was "Solomon" his whole life and never, ever, not even in synagogue at his Bar Mitzvah or anything, was called "Shlomo", Rabbi Bleich quotes Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin that it would be acceptable to write "Shlomo" in a Get. We could probably do some history research as to what various rabbis went by in non-Hebrew documents; the question is what name they used personally.
    – Shalom
    Dec 18, 2009 at 14:39
  • Clarification: "Alexander", according to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, is now treated as a bona-fide Hebrew name. The preference-override was a one-time thing in the time of Alexander the Great.
    – Shalom
    Dec 18, 2009 at 14:45
  • What about R' Chaim Kanievsky? Everyone quotes him as saying that "Shira" is not a name (also saw it in his sefer that I forgot the name of), and should change the name to "Sarah" ....
    – MTL
    May 23, 2014 at 2:58
  • @Shokhet - If that's the truth my sister needs to change her name... ;P
    – ezra
    Oct 19, 2017 at 2:57

This is an old question so I doubt I'll get too many upvotes, but I figured that I should weigh in anyway considering my own name :-)

Early Sources

First, historical examples: on the one hand, there's a midrash (Vayikra Rabba 32) that states that the Jews merited to be saved from Egypt because they 'didn't change their name', among other cultural differences which they kept separate from the Egyptians. On the other hand, there have been many such sages in the time of the Mishnah and Gemara that have had Greek names (one Sage's father was even names 'Titus', mentioned in Yerushalmi Terumos 42a). It could be, though, that these names were 'adopted' and were actually considered "Jewish" at the time, or maybe these Sages were themselves righteous talmidiei chachamim but their parents (who named them) were not. (However, in Nedarim 81a we see that R. Yose ben Chalafta's name was Vardimos.) In addition, Sefer Daniel mentions that Daniel and his friends had Babylonian names which they used in court, but these might have been forced upon them by the Babylonian authorities or only acceptable for Jews who were forced to be in the king's palace.

It also appears to be that in Medieval times, Jews kept two names: a non-Jewish one and a Jewish one. This is evident from the Rashba quoted by the Ran on the Rif (Gittin 18a), which is quoted in the Magid Mishnah (Geirushin 3:13) as coming from the Ramban. While it's clear that the Jews of his time and place had two names, it isn't so clear if the Jews ever used their secular name among themselves, or only used it when they were interacting with non-Jews.

Later Poskim

The Mabit (Shu"t 1:276) writes that a person should never name a child after a non-Jew or after someone who lived before the time of Avraham, because a person should only use the name of someone 'who kept the entire Torah'. Many have argued on this particular idea (for which the Mabit doesn't have a clear source), namely: the Chida (Birkei Yosef Y.D. 265:6), R. Eliezer Fleckeles (Shu"t Teshuvah Me'ahava 1:35) and the Pischei Teshuvah (also Y.D. 265:6)

The Maharam Shick (Teshuvah Y.D. 169), Maharshag (Teshuva 2:194), R. Shlomo Kluger (Shemos Anashim 142) and the Rogetchover Gaon (Teshuvah 275) all write that giving a non-Jewish name to one's child is a violation of the Biblical prohibition of following in the ways of the nations. The Maharam Shick understands this to be the opinion of Tosfos Gittin 34b who write that it would be anathema to use a non-Jewish name in a divorce document, and they cite the above-mentioned midrash as proof.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe O.C. 4:66), however, didn't see fit to prohibit the practice of using secular names, as so many Sages or other Jews mentioned in the Gemara have Greek or Roman names. He says that the Jews in Egypt may have been saved for their cultural adherence to Judaism, but that was only relevant when they didn't have the Torah to keep them together - but we keep halakha, so we shouldn't worry about certain cultural things such as names.

Furthermore, R. Asher Weiss interprets the Tosfos quoted earlier differently, as referring only to Jews who have apostatized. He points out (Minchas Asher Shemos 1) that the Gemara in Gittin actually states explicitly (daf 11b) that Gittin which come from outside of Israel are kosher when non-Jewish names are used, because "רוב ישראל שבחו"ל שמותיהם כשמות עכו"מ", 'most of the Jews in the diaspora have names like those of the idolaters'. Clearly, this was common and not looked upon as a major issue (the Sages would usually note the things that diaspora Jews do incorrectly). Based on this, the Maharshdam (Teshuvah Y.D. 199) writes that despite the fact that there's a prohibition to adopt non-Jewish actions, there's no problem in adopting non-Jewish names.

At the end of the day, though, R. Asher Weiss still advises against it, mainly for mystical or kabbalistic reasons. Thus, he feels that it's better for a person not to give a child a non-Jewish name, unless it's one that has already been accepted among Jews as "culturally Jewish". (Such as Klonimus Kalman or Alexander)

  • 3
    I really want to add on to the last paragraph - "or Matt" Jul 22, 2014 at 19:34
  • @YEZ I really don't think that counts but thank you Jul 22, 2014 at 21:02
  • JD Bleich says "they didn't change their names" means I was born Zev, but now I go to City Hall and tell them to make it William instead. That's different than what I choose to name my children.
    – Shalom
    Jul 23, 2014 at 1:23
  • I think you are pretty well-equipped to answer this question, just from this information in this answer (esp. from Mabit)
    – MTL
    Sep 8, 2014 at 23:56

In Ashkenaz (Germany-France) there was a ceremony called Chol Kreish which was for giving a baby its non-Jewish name.

So it can't be horribly wrong.

As an aside, the Jewish and secular names did not always match, with people being called (for example) Nathan as their Jewish name, and Joseph as their secular name (as was the case with my great grandfather.)


I think it is more important to give a child a name that is socially Jewish than linguistically Hebrew. For example, one of the greatest sages mentioned in the Mishna is Antignos, who clearly had a Greek name, but presumably that name was culturally Jewish.


Man great Jews had non-Jewish names, and although they didnt name themselves, they didnt hide their names. These names include: Tanach Mordechai (not a Jewish name) and Ester, probably derived from Ishtar the Babylonian equivalent of Venus. (I think there is a Yalkut Shim'oni which makes this connection). Chazal: Antignos, Avtalyon, Akiva, Somchos, Onkelos / Aquilos, and Tarfon. Rishonim: Maimon, Vidal (Magid Mishna), and Peter (Tosafist) Acharonim: Vidal (tzorfati) just to name a few.

  • 2
    Akiva doesn't derive from Yaakov?
    – Double AA
    Jan 30, 2015 at 18:17
  • 1
    Do you mean Rabbenu Petter (like petter chamor tifdeh veseh)?
    – Double AA
    Jan 30, 2015 at 18:18
  • His name whether pronounced "Petter" or "Peter" is probably not based on the Hebrew word from the cited passuk meaning thing that goes out, because who ever heard of such a hebrew name. I saw this cited by a posek in the discussion of Hebrew names (I think it was R. A. Weiss in Minchas Asher Al Hatorah.
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 1, 2015 at 16:17
  • Last names here don't count, and we see that some names have been accepted as Jewish - such as Akiva, Alexander, Mordechai and Esther. For sure you shouldn't name people after Roshoyim - whether Jewish or not.
    – user18155
    Oct 30, 2018 at 13:38
  • Although Mordechai and Esther seem to have been chosen as a double name--Esther is Ishtar in Pursian and "Hidden" (appropriately) in Hebrew. Moshe's name also may have intended a double meaning. It means "drawn from water" in Hebrew, but is also a common Egyptian name meaning "son". Oct 30, 2018 at 19:28

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .