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Following the logic of previous Parshios: Vayishlach, Vayetze, Vayeshev, Vayigash etc Parshas Yitro should be called Vayishmah as it starts with "וַיִּשְׁמַע יִתְרוֹ כֹהֵן מִדְיָן".

Many other Parshiot do start with verbs, such as Vayeshev, Veytzeh, Vayigash, etc.

Why not?

  • I had heard that the parsha was named after the first "significant" word, so the question is why certain words are judged significant and other aren't (and by whom). – rosends Jan 26 at 23:41
  • @rosends "וַיֵּצֵא יַעֲקֹב מִבְּאֵר שָׁבַע וַיֵּלֶךְ חָרָנָה׃ " could be called יעקב – Al Berko Jan 26 at 23:57
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    @AlB no it couldn't. There's no proof from וישלח וצא וישב ויחי since we can't name all of them Parshat Yaakov, so even if the verb is the second most important it would still be chosen there. – Double AA May 5 at 2:22
  • See here – robev May 5 at 2:35
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Midrash Tanchuma (Parshat Vayeilech Moshe # 2) refers to it as Parshat Vayishma Yitro:

וזהו תורה צוה לנו משה כמנין תורה צוה לנו משה והשנים צוה הקב"ה כמו שפרשתי בפרשת וישמע יתרו

Ramban (commentary to Genesis 43:20) refers to it in the same way:

ועוד לפנינו בפרשת ויגש אליו אמר לו יהודה בייא אתה מעביר עלינו שכך אמרת לנו ואשימה עיני עליו זו היא השמת עין ובפרשת ויהי בשלח שמא אני מעביר בייא על בריה ובפרשת וישמע יתרו נתמנה אדם ונטל טלית כל טורח ציבור עליו אם ראה אדם מעביר בייא על חברו או עובר עבירה ולא מיחה בו הוא נענש עליו ובפרשת אשה כי תזריע צווח אנא בייא עליכון וכן במקומות הרבה

Note that all the four parshiyot he mentions are titled in this fashion: What some people call Vayigash is Vayigash Eilav. What some people call Beshalach is Vayehi Beshalach. What some people call Tazria is called Ishah Ki Tazria.

Or you can see this 13th Century manuscript of Rashi's commentary where it is also referred to as Parshat Vayishma Yitro:

The Palatina Library, Parma, Italy Cod. Parm. 2708 (p. 46 in the file)

Image of manuscript showing parshah name

If you scroll through this manuscript you will see that many of the parshiot (but not all) follow this pattern. E.g. V'eileh Toldot, Vayeitzei Yaakov, Vayeishev Yaakov B'eretz, etc.

While other sources may refer to it as Parshat Yitro, that just tells us that there was no standardization as to how to refer to parshiot. This makes sense because there doesn't seem to be any reason why it would matter how you refer to a parshah. Why a particular set of names following a perhaps-not-entirely-consistent format may have become particularly popular is anyone's guess.

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Maybe it's to highlight the fact that he added an extra Parsha (Shmos 18:21) into the Torah, as Rashi informs us:

יֶתֶר, עַל שֵׁם שֶׁיִּתֵּר פָּרָשָׁה אַחַת בַּתּוֹרָה "וְאַתָּה תֶחֱזֶה" ‏

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