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From biblical times through at least the Geonic period and perhaps until as late as the Chasam Sofer Jews gave their children a single first name. It seems to be a relatively late idea to give a child more than one 'first' name. It is my understanding that the name Shnuer was created as a contraction of the words 'shnei ohr' (two lights) when a question arose about naming a child after someone named Uri and someone else named Meir. The solution, to create a new name, came about because of the hesitation or unwillingness to simply give the person two names.

Is there any religious reason to prefer giving a single name and if so does anyone explain why there was a shift from giving a single name to multiple names?

  • I don't know but there are way more people on earth many with the same first and last name. – user16446 Jan 1 '18 at 0:01
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    There are several people in Tanach with a 2 word name. שאר ישוב, פוטי פרע, ... – Heshy Jan 1 '18 at 0:02
  • @Heshy מהר שלל חש בז is probably the record. But there's a difference between a name that means one thing in two words and two separate, unrelated names together, like אברהם יצחק which doesn't mean anything together – b a Jan 1 '18 at 8:46
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Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz has a long piece on this here. Here is the main part but it is well worth reading the whole section V starting on page 15:

Giving two names under normal circumstances. While Rav Yechezkel Landau and Rav Moshe Sofer don’t explicitly forbid giving two names, their tone suggests negative feelings toward this custom. Additionally, the Chazon Ish is reported to have disapproved of the custom to give two names (even though he had two names himself). No reason is offered for this opinion, but presumably it is due to the resulting complexities in the laws of gittin and because it is a relatively recent custom. It seems that the Chazon Ish is somewhat of a da’as yachid on this matter, as the custom to give multiple names is very prevalent and has not been met with any criticism from other leading poskim. In fact, Rav Moshe Feinstein was reported to have ruled that although it was certainly inappropriate to start such a practice, since it is not forbidden, any rabbinic objection would certainly go unheeded.

Giving two names after two different people. Assuming that there is no objection to giving a child multiple names, Sefer Bris Avos cites The Rav of Staratin who says not to name a child after two different people. In light of the custom to do so, Bris Avos suggests that this authority merely meant that one should not name his child for two people who did not get along with each other in their lifetimes. This ruling is most likely based on kabbalistic considerations. Another consideration when giving two names after two different people is that the combination of the two names may be considered a third, independent name, and may not be considered to be after the two people who originally had those names. This point seems to be the subject of conflicting views of the rabbis.

Rabbi Eliezer Silver went so far as to rule that somebody named Yitzchak Isack may name his child Avraham Yitzchak, as the different combination is clearly a totally different name. He proved this from the pesukim at the end of Parshas Matos where the torah says that Yair the son of Menashe went and captured villages (chavos) and these villages were renamed Chavos Yair. In contrast the next pasuk states that Nobach captured Kenat and called it Nobach “after his name”. The addition of the phrase “after his name” suggests that only in Nobach’s case where the name remained exactly the same is it considered “after his name”. In Yair’s case where the title Chavos was added, it is not considered to be “after his name”.

The Da’as Zekeinim M’ba’alei Hatosafos point out that Yoseph named his son Ephraim after both Avraham and Yitzchak. Avraham refers to himself as efer (ashes) and Yitzchak was like efer (ashes) on the mizbeach. The name Ephraim means “two efer’s (two people referred to as ashes)”. Implicit in this comment is the notion that one may name for two different people, even if each name is changed.

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The halachos of gitten can become complicated when more than one name is given.

Rama EH 129:1

כּוֹתְבִין שֵׁם הָאִישׁ וְהָאִשָּׁה, בַּגֵּט. וְאִם יֵשׁ לְאֶחָד מֵהֶם שְׁנֵי שֵׁמוֹת, כּוֹתְבִין שֵׁם שֶׁהֵם רְגִילִים בּוֹ וְיוֹדְעִים בּוֹ בְּיוֹתֵר, וְכוֹתְבִים: אִישׁ פְּלוֹנִי וְכָל שֵׁם שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ גֵּרַשׁ אִשָּׁה פְּלוֹנִית וְכָל שֵׁם שֶׁיֵּשׁ לָהּ; וְאִם כָּתַב חֲנִיכָתוֹ וַחֲנִיכָתָהּ, כָּשֵׁר. הַגָּה: וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן אִם כָּתַב עִקַּר הַשֵּׁם לְבַד, דְּכָשֵׁר, וְלָכֵן אֵין לְהַקְפִּיד עַל הַכִּנּוּיִים כָּל כָּךְ. וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים דְּאֵין לִכְתֹּב כָּל שׁוּם שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ, אֶלָּא אִם יֵשׁ לוֹ שְׁנֵי שֵׁמוֹת יִכְתֹּב: פְּלוֹנִי דְּמִתְקְרֵי פְּלוֹנִי (רַבֵּנוּ תָּם וּבֵית יוֹסֵף בְּשֵׁם הָרַמְבַּ''ן וְהָרַשְׁבָּ''א), וְכֵן נוֹהֲגִין, וְאֵין לְשַׁנּוֹת. וַאֲפִלּוּ נִכְתַּב הַגֵּט אֵין לְגָרֵשׁ בּוֹ, אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁכָּתַב: כָּל שֵׁם, עַד שֶׁיִּכְתֹּב שְׁנֵי הַשֵּׁמוֹת (בְּקוּנְטְרֵס). לֹא כָּתַב אֶלָּא שֵׁם הָאֶחָד, אֲפִלּוּ הוּא שֵׁם הַטָּפֵל, וְגֵרַשׁ בּוֹ, כָּשֵׁר (טוּר):

They write the name of the man and the woman on the get (that is, the divorce document). If one of them has two names, then they write the name by which they are usually called and is most well known, and they write: man so-and-so, and all names that he has, divorced woman so-and-so and all names that she has. And, if [the scribe] wrote his or her surname, then [the get] is valid. Rem"a: And all the more so if he only wrote the main name, it is valid, and therefore one need not be precise for all the nicknames. And there are those that say not to write all the names that a person is called. Rather, if he has two names, then a person should write: so-and-so that is called such-and-such (Rabbeinu Tam, and the Beit Yosef in the name of the Ramba"n and the Rashb"a), and such is the practice and one should not change this. And even if [such] a get was written [i.e., without indicating the names], one should not divorce with it, even though it says: "every name [that this person has]" until [the scribe] writes both names (Kuntres). If [the scribe] only wrote one name, even if it is a secondary name, and [the husband] divorced with it, it is valid (Tur).

  • Consider emphasizing or summarizing the main parts. Also consider explaining the change. Historically one name was more common. Later more names became common. There is presumably no reason to assume that the halakhot became simpler recently. If anything, halakha tends to get more complex. – mevaqesh Jan 1 '18 at 1:43

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