The Hebrew word Neshamah contains the word Shem or name, linking the two together.

The Ba'al Shem Tov commenting on Genesis 2:19 wrote Hashem hu haneshamah shel ha'adam, one's name is one's very soul.

1 Samuel 25:25 seems to tell that one is one's name: כי כשמו

So does a name that's been given has any influence on who we become (according to Jewish teachings and scriptures)?

  • Could you cite the verse in Samuel and clarify how it demonstrated your claim?
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 16 '17 at 22:52
  • Also, where did you see the Ba'al Shem Tov quote. A book citation would be great. Feb 16 '17 at 22:54
  • 2
    Related, possibly the same idea. judaism.stackexchange.com/q/79302/3
    – WAF
    Feb 17 '17 at 3:00
  • I was taught in chassidus that a spark of the soul of the person one was named for is present in one's soul
    – SAH
    Feb 19 '17 at 15:36

The Gemara in Yoma 83b has a story proving that one can tell another person's behavior from their name (I guess if you're good enough):

ותו ר"מ ור' יהודה ור' יוסי הוו קא אזלי באורחא ר' מאיר הוה דייק בשמא ר' יהודה ור' יוסי לא הוו דייקו בשמא כי מטו לההוא דוכתא בעו אושפיזא יהבו להו אמרו לו מה שמך אמר להו כידור אמר ש"מ אדם רשע הוא שנאמר (דברים לב, כ) כי דור תהפוכות המה ר' יהודה ור' יוסי אשלימו ליה כיסייהו ר"מ לא אשלים ליה כיסיה אזל אותביה בי קיבריה דאבוה אתחזי ליה בחלמיה תא שקיל כיסא דמנח ארישא דההוא גברא למחר אמר להו הכי אתחזי לי בחלמאי אמרי ליה חלמא דבי שמשי לית בהו ממשא אזל ר"מ ונטריה כולי יומא ואייתיה למחר אמרו לו הב לן כיסן אמר להו לא היו דברים מעולם אמר להו ר"מ אמאי לא דייקיתו בשמא אמרו ליה אמאי לא אמרת לן מר אמר להו אימר דאמרי אנא חששא אחזוקי מי אמרי משכוהו ועיילוהו לחנותא חזו טלפחי אשפמיה אזלו ויהבו סימנא לדביתהו ושקלוהו לכיסייהו ואייתו אזל איהו וקטליה לאיתתיהמשכוהו ועיילוהו לחנותא חזו טלפחי אשפמיה אזלו ויהבו סימנא לדביתהו ושקלוהו לכיסייהו ואייתו אזל איהו וקטליה לאיתתיה היינו (דתנן) מים ראשונים האכילו בשר חזיר מים אחרונים הרגו את הנפש ולבסוף הוו דייקי בשמא כי מטו לההוא ביתא דשמיה בלה לא עיילו לגביה אמרי שמע מינה רשע הוא דכתיב (יחזקאל כג, מג) ואמר לבלה נאופים כמו (בראשית יח, יב) אחרי בלותי היתה לי עדנה כלומר זקנה בנאופים

And furthermore, it is told: Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yosei were walking on the road together. Rabbi Meir would analyze names and discern one’s nature from his name, while Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yosei were not apt to analyze names. When they came to a certain place, they looked for lodging and were given it. They said to the innkeeper: What is your name? He said to them: My name is Kidor. Rabbi Meir said to himself: Perhaps one can learn from this that he is a wicked person, as it is stated: “For they are a generation [ki dor] of upheavals” (Deuteronomy 32:20). Since it was Friday afternoon, Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yosei entrusted their purses to him. Rabbi Meir did not entrust his purse to him but went and placed it at the grave of the innkeeper’s father. The innkeeper’s father appeared to the innkeeper in a dream and said to him: Go take the purse placed at the head of that man, i.e., the innkeeper’s father. The following day, he said to the Sages: This is what appeared to me in my dream. They said to him: Dreams during twilight on Shabbat evening have no substance and should not be trusted. Even so, Rabbi Meir went and guarded his money all that day and then took it. The next day, the rabbis said to the innkeeper: Give us our purses. He said to them: These matters never occurred; you never gave me any purses. Rabbi Meir said to them: Why didn’t you analyze his name to learn that he is a wicked man? They said to him: Why didn’t the Master tell us? He said to them: I said one should be suspicious, but have I said a person should be established as wicked? Could I say to you with certainty that he is wicked based on his name alone? What did they do? They dragged the innkeeper and brought him to a store and gave him wine to drink. After he drank the wine, they saw lentils on his mustache, showing that he had eaten lentils that day. They went and gave this sign to his wife. They said that the innkeeper had ordered that their money be returned to them upon the sign that he ate lentils at his last meal. And they took their purses and went. He went and killed his wife out of anger that she did this. This is as we learned in a baraita: Due to a person’s laxity in the first washing, they fed him pork. There was an innkeeper who was accustomed to feed pork to gentiles and kosher meat to Jews. He distinguished between Jews and gentiles by watching to see whether they performed the ritual hand-washing before eating. One time, a Jew came and ate without washing his hands before the meal, and the innkeeper gave him pork to eat. Laxity in the final washing, the washing of one’s hands and mouth after a meal, caused the innkeeper to kill the person. This is similar to that story, as had the wicked innkeeper washed his mouth, the rabbis would not have known that he had eaten lentils. And in the end, they too, Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yosei, would analyze names. When they came to a house of a landlord named Bala, they did not enter. They said: Conclude from here that he is certainly wicked, as it is written: “I said of her who was worn out [bala] by adulteries” (Ezekiel 23:43), as it states: “After I am grown old [beloti] shall I have pleasure?” (Genesis 18:12). “Worn out by adulteries” means aged through adulteries.


The Talmud, Brachos 7b, says (copied from Sefaria):

רות מאי רות א"ר יוחנן שזכתה ויצא ממנה דוד שריוהו להקב"ה בשירות ותשבחות

Continuing on the topic of names, the Gemara asks: What is the meaning of the name Ruth? Rabbi Yoḥanan said: That she had the privilege that David, who inundated the Holy One, Blessed be He, with songs and praises, would descend from her. The name Ruth [Rut] is etymologically similar in Hebrew to the word inundate [riva].

מנא לן דשמא גרים אמר רבי אליעזר דאמר קרא (תהלים מו, ט) לכו חזו מפעלות ה' אשר שם שמות בארץ אל תקרי שמות אלא שמות:

Regarding the basic assumption that these homiletic interpretations of names are allusions to one’s future, the Gemara asks: From where do we derive that the name affects one’s life? Rabbi Eliezer said that the verse says: “Go, see the works of the Lord, who has made desolations [shamot] upon the earth” (Psalms 46:9). Do not read the word as shamot, rather as shemot, names. The names given to people are, therefore, “the works of the Lord upon the earth.”

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