I suppose this is more of a history question: as in when did Jewish people start naming their children with more than one name? But I would also be interested in knowing the circumstances behind it?

Why did it happen? What were the reasons behind it?


4 Answers 4


In the Rabbi Frand tape on choosing Hebrew names, he points to a sefer from only a few hundred years ago that says the Hebrew name shneur was coined when a baby was born; one parent wanted to name the child Meir ("illuminator"), after his/her father; the other parent wanted Yair ("shall illuminate"), after her/his father; they compromised and named the baby shnai-or ("two lights"). But you see that giving two names wasn't common then, or else they could have just called him Meir Yair. (Or Yair Meir ... or maybe they could have, but then they'd fight over who was first? ...)

I recall hearing in yeshiva that the only Rishon with two names is someone in Tosfos called Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael (see Kesubos 98b ד"ה אמר רב פפא). And even then, Yaakov and Yisrael were two names of one person; giving two totally different names was not the fashion a few hundred years ago.

There's the story with Rabbi Akiva Eiger of some child who was having terrible nightmares or something, it turned out he was named after two different grandfathers who had hated each others' guts. Rabbi Eiger went to their graves and demanded they make up with one another; whereupon the child's condition improved.

Lastly, someone asked Rabbi Yaakov Shmuel Weinberg, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Baltimore's Ner Israel:

Rebbe, I hear that if you name the child after two different people, the child will be crazy?

Who replied:

-- Do I look crazy to you?!

  • 2
    However, there are opinions that say you should not name 1 baby after both grandfathers. If so, maybe they had to invent a new name because they held that they couldn't give the kid those two names, not because they couldn't give him two names in general. Zushe Wilhelm wrote a sefer called Ziv Hashemos (What's in a name, in english), which extensively compiles different opinions about naming babies. Here is a link to the chapter that discusses this: chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/273292/jewish/… - [...]
    – Menachem
    Sep 14, 2011 at 19:38
  • [...] unfortunately, the best part of the book is the footnotes, which brings the sources for all the different opinions. I can't seem to find that version online, so I don't know who he's quoting. The version on Chabad.org is printed without the footnotes.
    – Menachem
    Sep 14, 2011 at 19:39
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    The source is Responsa Beer Moshe, Vol. 1, ch. 60, paragraph 2; Responsa BeTzeil HaChochmah, Vol. 1, ch. 34 (I looked it up in the printed sefer)
    – Menachem
    Apr 6, 2013 at 0:39

In Iran, we did this so that we keep our Jewish indentity. We have two names. A persian (secular) name and a Jewish name that we use in the Shul. This way we can function in the society and keep Jewish. I am sure the same applies anywhere else. Sorry if this is repetitous. I didn't read all of the answers.

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    I know many people who were born in the United States and who were given different legal (English) and Jewish names likewise.
    – msh210
    Sep 15, 2011 at 4:07
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    Rav Samson Rafel Hirsch was a big advocate for that Sep 15, 2011 at 4:36

I don't know. But Moshe was also Avig'dor, Tov, and others, it so would seem to date back at least to then.

As far as someone with two names used together (as opposed to alternate names like Moshe's), we have Tzaf'nas Pa'neach back in B'reshis, though it's a non-Jewish name; a little later (chronologically), there's Chatzi Ham'nuchos (which some, though not Rashi, explain is a [Jewish] name); and later, in Sh'muel, there's I Chavod, a Jewish name.

  • It seems to me that there's a distinction between alternate (or nick-) names and multi-names. In the former case, you may use one of any name on the list. In the latter, you use the two names together.
    – Isaac Moses
    Sep 14, 2011 at 4:57
  • @IsaacMoses, I agree completely. And the question is general, not distinguishing between the different kinds of "more than one name", so mine is, if you will, a partial answer, referring to only the one kind.
    – msh210
    Sep 14, 2011 at 4:59
  • @IsaacMoses: Now I've offered examples of the other kind also.
    – msh210
    Sep 14, 2011 at 5:06
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    @msh210: Still, though, those are all multi-word names (similar to "Ben Tzion," which is certainly not considered two names for purposes of end-of-Shemoneh-Esrei pesukim or whatever). That's different than Yaakov Shmuel or Yosef Yitzchak or many other examples, where the two names are indeed distinct.
    – Alex
    Sep 14, 2011 at 15:21
  • @Alex, how do you know it's different? If someone gets the name Ben Tziyon or Chatzi Ham'nuchos at his b'ris, and someone else gets Yaakov Sh'muel, who says the former is one name and the latter two? They certainly sound the same when pronounced by the guy saying the name-giving prayer.
    – msh210
    Sep 14, 2011 at 16:36

I would guess often because parents could not agree on only one and name and compromised on two they felt sounded nice together. There is also a minhag that some have that if a very young child a very ill, G-d forbid, to give him/her an additional name in hopes the merit from the additional name will help in their recovery

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