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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What's In A Name?

This post was inspired by Hasya Ya'ara's post What's in a Name

When I was born, my parents gave me three different names. Two are on my birth certificate, and one is the name they gave me in shul (synagogue).

The first name on my birth certificate is simply a name my parents liked, and that is what they, and everyone else, called me for most half of my life.

The second name on my birth certificate is my grandmother's, z"l*, English/secular name.  No one ever called me by that name (except my mother, when she was very angry at me;  then she would call me by my first, middle and last name!).  Still, I was very conscious that I was named after my grandmother.  And, occasionally, I did have to sign something using either my middle name or middle initial.

Rivka was my grandmother's Hebrew/Jewish name.  No one ever called me, or her (as far as I know), by that name either.  Everyone used our English names.

In college, I questioned the meaning of being named after someone if no one uses that name.  In another generation, the name disappears and the continuity is broken.

I decided to honor my grandmother by using her name, Rivka.

I did not ask people who knew me before to change the way they called me.  I was not rejecting my "old" name, but, rather, embracing both my grandmother and my Jewish identity.

Some friends chose to call me by both names.  I did not mind, but I did find it somewhat amusing, and long.

A few months after I started using the name Rivka, an Israeli friend showed me the way the name is pronounced in the Torah.  It was the first grammar lesson that ever interested me.  Though most people today pronounce Jewish names mil'el (with the accent on the first syllable), in the Tanach, all names are pronounced mil'rah (with the accent on the final syllable)**. 

The proper pronunciation not only sounded prettier to me, but it also felt stronger, less galus-dik.  Ironically, the ancient pronunciation felt more modern to me.  Thus, RIV-ka, became Riv-KA.  (At the time, I was very influenced by the Israeli short story, The Name, by Aharon Megged.  For a short summary and an interesting analysis of the story, see here.)

Though I never asked people to call me by my "new" name, I did (and still do) insist that people pronouce my name correctly. 

I am glad that there are still people, primarily family and old friends, who call me by the name of my childhood.  I love that name, and it is a part of who I am.  Moshe, who knows me since we are 15, still calls me by that name.  I like to say that name is "my family name," used by both my old family, and my new one.

RivkA is the name by which the universe knows me.  RivkA is my Jewish name, the name which connects me to God, the name used by all those who pray for me around the world.

My name is RivkA, daughter of Teirtzel and Yeshaya HaLevi.

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

*z"l = zichronah livracha, may her memory be a blessing.

** For a more in depth discussion about Biblical grammar and Biblical names, see The Dikdukian


Staying Afloat said...

What a beautiful discussion- thank you. I know what you mean about having two different names used in different settings, and you had such a touching reason to use a different name.

My oldest has a name that we translated from the original Yiddish my grandmother had. It has an often used nickname that I won't use, because I've already changed the name- I don't want to change it again.

Do your children have middle names?

Anonymous said...

My grandmother was also Rivka, known as Rose. Rivka is my Hebrew name, though I don't use it. Strangely, my cousin named his oldest daughter Rivka not knowing that it was our late grandmother's name - he thought her name must have been Raizel or Shoshana based on her English name.

But if you used your English name in college, that is what I would remember. And I don't! I can't place you! But we were definitely in the exact same circles, since we had te exact same friends.

mikimi said...

I was adopted(after being fostered) by a family that new my birth family
who named me Cindy Iris/Sara Chaya but the "fosters" called me Michele Iris/Michela Chaya Sara. At age 16 I made Aliyah and after spending time on Moshav Modiin, my name was changed to Mikimi Chochmat-Lev.
And people wonder why I have an identity crisis!

Liba said...

I try to say it right. :(

After thirty some odd years of saying it the wrong way, and a daughter named RIVka, I am going to slip often though.

Maybe I should find out and call you your English name. :)

RivkA with a capital A said...

Staying Afloat -- Thanks. Before our first child was born, we decided that we would only give our children one name. That "rule" worked for our girls. But when I was pregnant with our son, we had a real dilemma. We named all our children after our grandparents. But, just before our son was conceived, a very close friend of ours was murdered and we really wanted to honor his memory as well. So, our son has two names, and we call him by both names.

Tesyaa -- I started using my Jewish name within a few months of starting college. So, it is unlikely you would know me by my other name. Most probably, you know me as RivkA. And, if you saw me, you would remember me. I recognized you from your picture.

Mikimmi -- you're not kidding!

Liba -- I'm patient... I'll just keep correcting you! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday!! And RivKA bat Tirtzl is who I asked the woman giving birth last night to mention for refua when I was with her! (and she did:) - Jameela

RivkA with a capital A said...

Jameela -- you are amazing!! (as is the woman who gave birth -- Mazal Tov!) THANKS for always thinking of me and sending me prayers!!

Melissa said...


Now I am the one who is honored. Thank you for writing this post.

You touched my heart and neshama.

Hasya Ya'ara

RivkA with a capital A said...

Hasya Ya'ara -- :-)