Importance of names in hebrew culture
A growing wave of research suggests that a person’s name can have a profound impact that can reverberate from childhood to adulthood.
How does my name affect my personality? A study by professors at the University of Melbourne and the University of New York found that people with simple, easy-to-pronounce names are more likely to be favored with a promotion at work.
“The impact of the names comes from how people expect to see you,” says a professor at Ohio University. And while prejudging people based on the name might seem unfair, sometimes we do it subconsciously when making decisions.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal Describes how in Thailand, when faced with a tide of bad luck, many people are changing their names to create better perspectives. Companies advising Thais on how to choose new names are becoming a profitable rising industry. So, polls indicate that a person’s name can affect even career options.
But does the meaning of a name only deal with perceptions or is there something that is born spiritually about the name itself that has a power over the person? The names are considered very significant in Judaism. His Jewish name is the channel by which life comes to you from high. In fact, the Kabbalists say that when parents name a child, the fate of that child is wrapped in the combination of the Hebrew letters that form the name. The scholars of the Midrash recommend that “one must give a child the name of a righteous, for sometimes the name influences the behavior of the person and his/her destiny.” (Midrash tanchuma, haazinu 7).
The power in a name
Changing the name to create a change in luck really has its roots in Judaism. That’s why if someone is very sick and in danger, we could give him an additional name, like Chaim (or Chaya), which means “life”, or Raphael (or Rafaela), “healing”.
The first recorded story of a change of name that led to an incredible change in fate was that of Abram and Sarai. The episode occurred when Avraham was 90 years old. D’us appeared to him and said that he would be making an everlasting covenant with him, and that Sarah and he would be blessed with a son.
Let’s see what test is all about:”… and Abram was 99 years old, andD’us appeared to open and said to him, “I am the almighty D’us ; Walk before me and be perfect. And I will put my pact between you and me, and I will multiply you very… And thy name shall be no more Abram, but it shall be Avraham, for I have made thee the father of a multitude of nations. And I will make you inexceedibly fruitful, and I will make thee nations, and kings shall arise from thee”. (Bereshit 17:1-2, 4-5).
Then he commanded the Avraham that he and all his male sons should be circumcidated as a sign of the Covenant. The name of his wife, Sarai, would also be changed, and then she would have the miracle of having children, despite the advanced age.
AndD’us said to Avraham: “Your Sarai wife-you mustn’t call her Sarai, for Sara is your name. And I will bless her, and give her a child, and bless her, and she shall be the mother of the nations; Kings of Nations will come from her. ” And Avraham felt in his face and rejoated, and said to himself, “will a child be born to someone who is one hundred years old, and Sara, who is 90 years old, shall give birth?” (Bereshit 17:15-17).
The Talmud explains that the change of name of Avraham and Sara created a change in their status – instead of a particular mission, they now assumed a universal mission. The Talmud (brachot 13 A) explains: Open that it is Avraham. At first he was the father of Aram, in the end became the father of the world. Sarai, this is Sara. At first she was Sarai to this nation and in the end became Sara to the whole world.
Abram means “Av Ram”, father of Aram, for he originated from the city of Aram Naharayim. His name was changed to Avraham, “Av hamongoyim,” the father of a multitude of nations.
Sarai, name given to her by Avraham, means “sharasi sheli”, my princess and superior.Avrahamnow it was ordained that in its new status as “AvHamon , in Goyim”, the father of a multitude of nations, his wife, too, would have a more universal status that would be reflected in the name, Sara, princess par excellence and not just Princess of Avraham.
Let’s look more closely at the text describing these name changes. D’us said to Avraham, “Thy name shall become Avraham.” On the change of Sara’s name, on the other hand, the text says: “Sara is her name.”Avrahamdemanded a greater dimension and spiritual transformation to becomeAvraham. Sara, however, was already Sara.
The letter “Yud” that was removed from the name of Sarai was divided into two letters, one HEI was added to Abram and the other to Sara. The change of Sara’s name involved the division of the yud of Sarai into two heís, numerically equivalent to 5, to share the spirituality of Sarai. Therefore, says the text, “Sara is his name;” Sarai already represented all of Sara’s spirituality.
This “Yud” taken from the name of Sarai was later added to the name of his descendant, Yehoshua, successor of moshe. He was one of the 12 spies sent to look upon the land of Israel. Although his original name was Hoshea, moshê changed his name to Yehoshua, Joshua, giving the gift of Sara’s spirituality, yud. This gave him a greater dimension of spirituality, so that he might have the courage to face the plot of spies and bring a true, positive account of the land to the Jewish people. His new name brought results, because only he and another spy refuted the negative account of others. In addition to teaching us about Sara’s incredible spiritual strength and her ability to share it with others, the episode shows that there is a name more than we imagined.
When parents give their child their names, they experience a small prophecy. When parents provide a new born his name, it connects to him, to his soul and can affect his destiny.