Sunday, January 1, 2012

"Weird Names?" By Whose Definition?

No doubt I'm not the only blogger who's going to blog this one!

NRP aka Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home)'s MK Zvulun Orlev has proposed a bill to restrict parents' rights to choose names for their children, to prevent "weird" names.  Maybe "weird" isn't the right word, since I did check the A7 Hebrew article, too.  What he wants to prevent is negative names, those that could "damage." them in some way, open them to mockery, for instance.

In Hebrew, unlike English, every combination of letters seems to mean something.  Picking a name (or a word) because you like the sounds can be very risky in Hebrew.  Also, we're a country of immigrants, and an ordinary acceptable "name" from one language may be an extremely negative or foul word in another.

For a short time I subbed in the Ofra Girls High School, Ulpanat Ofra.  I taught a class of Ethiopean immigrants. Actually, some or most were probably born here in Israel, but they needed remedial help.  Not a single one of the girls had a Hebrew name.  I have enough problems remembering names and faces, but in that class it was impossible.  For my ears their names were jumbles of sounds.  We'd spend the longest time each lesson just trying to take attendence, as they tried to teach me how to pronounce their names.  I complained to the person in charge of their program that keeping those names would hold back their full absorption in Israeli society.  If they would apply for a job, the lack of a familiar/pronounceable name would put them on the bottom of the pile.

We gave our children names from the Bible, mostly pretty obscure ones.  Their feelings about their names are rather mixed.  The one child who got totally conventional names had her nickname added officially to her identity.  I made that nickname up.  She doesn't mind having a unique name.  I love the names I gave my kids.  There's a lot of special meaning to their names.

After our second daughter was born, someone told my husband that her name was weird and would make life tough for her.  We didn't agree.  Having that name gives her a special connection to the Bible and to a street in Jerusalem.  I study Bible in Matan, and whenever one of the teachers (who actually knows her) mentions her name, she gives me a special smile. 

There's one downside for me about my children's names.  I can't be discreet about adding the names of the singles/still unmarried to any lists to pray for.  Nobody else has these names, especially combined with the "middle-name" and mine as "mother of."

If this law becomes law, no doubt people will sue if stopped from registering their children's names.  In Israel most children are named in religious ceremonies, and only later are the names registered.  Boys get their names at their Brit Milah and girls are named in synagogue when the father, or some other relative/friend, is called to the Torah.  In the end, even if the parents and authorities don't agree, the parents will use the name they wish, and the child will add or change her/his name when applying for an identity card.


Hadassa said...

Names are a slightly touchy subject with immigrants sometimes. A friend of mine worked with Ethiopian children for a while and was horrified that someone had almost completely randomly Hebraicized their names without giving thought to the meaning behind the name. I'm all for Hebrew names only, but when a name is changed, the meaning should be preserved unless there's a compelling reason not to do so. Alternatively the sound can be kept. I met a woman named Liora and we had a good laugh when we discovered that we both changed names from Laura. Laurel is Daphna, but I didn't like the name so I went with something close, myrtle, Hadassa, which I prefer to the more modern Hadas. See how complicated it gets...

Risa Tzohar said...

My best friend in first grade was the daughter of Holocaust survivors who had named her Johanna. Our American-born well meaning teachers felt that name was too "European" and so they introduced her as "Janet" - a good 'American' name. This was a new 'Yeshiva' and they decided that in the fourth grade girls and boys should not be together and since there weren't enough girls we had a 'graduation' and went to other schools. My friend went back to her real name, the one her parents had given her.

Batya said...

Hadassa, Batya is a name I chose. It just came out of my mouth when I introduced myself at my first Betar meeting. My real Jewish name is no secret; it's on this blog.
Risa, I don't think teachers would dare do that today.

Anonymous said...

Plenty of countries stop people registering unusual names. See:

Lindsay said...

We're one of those couples that agonized over the names of our children. Since we don't live in Israel the general public doesn't always "get" the Hebrew/Biblical names of our 4 children. But they are great conversation starters!Now I personally was given a very American name that I really don't like. Oh well.

We choose for our son the name of a prophet. Our eldest daughter the wife of a priest and the youngest two daughters are named after special towns in Israel.....can you guess?

Batya said...

a, if I'm not mistaken Japan forbids non-Japanese names. But when the criteria are subjective, like here, there's no way it will work.

Lindsay, maybe you have a Ranana? I wouldn't really venture a guess more than that. But I'm curious!

Ways of Zion said...

Batya, their names are: Micah, Eli-Sheva, Bethel & Hevron

I hope you approve :-)

Batya said...

what gorgeous names!!! Lots of nachas to you and your family.