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Hebrew names are names that have a Hebrew language origin, classically from the Hebrew Bible. They are mostly used by Jews and Christians, but many are also adapted to the Islamic world, particularly if a Hebrew name is mentioned in the Qur'an (example: Ibrahim is a common Arabic name from the Hebrew Avraham). A typical Hebrew name can have many different forms, having been adapted to the phonologies of many different languages. A common Jewish practice worldwide is to give a Hebrew name to a child that is used religiously throughout his or her lifetime.
Names of Hebrew origin
Hebrew names used by Jews (along with many Hebrew names used in Christendom) often come from the Jewish Tanakh, which contains the Torah: The Five Books of Moses, which are also the first five books in the Christian Old Testament, along with two other collections of books, Nevi'im: The Prophets and Kethuvim: The Writings.
Many of these names are thought to have been adapted from Hebrew phrases and expressions, bestowing special meaning or the unique circumstances of birth to the one who receives that name. An example of a name with a special personal meaning is יהודה Yəhûḏāh (Judah). An example of a name indicating circumstances of birth is ראובן Rəʼûḇēn (Reuben), which means "Look, a son."
Theophoric names are those which include a form of a divine name, such by adding the suffix אל -el, meaning "God," forming names such as מיכאל Michael ("who is like God?") and גבריאל Gabriel ("man of God"). Another common form of theophory is the use of the Tetragrammaton as the basis for a suffix; the most common abbreviations used by Jews are יה -yāh/-iyyāh and יהו -yāhû/-iyyāhû/-ayhû, forming names such as ישׁעיהו Yəšaʻªyāhû (Isaiah), צדקיהו Ṣiḏqiyyāhû (Zedekiah) and שׂריה Śərāyāh (Seraiah). Most Christian usage is of the shorter suffix preferred in translations of the Bible to European languages: Greek -ιας -ias and English -iah, producing names such as Τωβιας Tōbias (Tobias, Toby) instead of Tobiyyahu and Ιερεμίας Ieremias (Jeremiah, Jeremy) instead of Yirmeyahu.
In addition to devotion to Elohim and YHWH, names could also be sentences of praise in their own right. The name טוביהו Ṭôḇiyyāhû means "Good of/is the LORD."
Names of Aramaic origin
At the end of the First Temple Period, the Kingdom of Judah was destroyed. While they were there, the Jews ceased to speak Hebrew as their daily language, and adopted Aramaic instead. Judæo-Aramaic was the vernacular language at the time of Jesus, and was also the language used to write parts of the Book of Daniel, the Book of Ezra, and the entire Jewish Babylonian Talmud. Aramaic remained the lingua franca of the Middle East until the time of Islam.
Due to the Hellenisation of the Eastern Mediterranean and the movement of Jews around the area, many names were adapted to Greek, reinforced by the translation of the Tanakh in the Septuagint with many Hellenized names.
Such Hebræo-Greek names include Ιησους Iēsous (originally from ישׁוע Yēšûªʻ), Νωη Nōē (originally from נח Nōªḥ), Ισαιας Isaias (originally from ישׁעיהו Yəšaʻªyāhû), Ισραήλ Israēl (originally from ישראל Yiśrā’ēl which can mean "person (mind) seeing God".
Also, some Jews of the time had Greek Gentile names themselves, such as the Christian Luke (Greek Λουκας Loukas). Though used by some Jews at the time, these names are generally not associated with Jews today, and are considered characteristically Greek and largely confined to use by Christians. Hebrew forms of the names exist, but they are extremely rare.
Many Hebrew names were adapted into Latin, but mostly through Greek, as Greek was the language of the translation of the Old Testament made by 70 distinguished scholars of the Diaspora, circa third century B.C.E., and for that reason called the Septuagint. Such names include Jesus (from Greek Ιησους Iēsous) and Maria (from Greek Μαριαμ Mariam, originally from Hebrew מרים Miryām).
Also, some Jews during Roman times also had Latin names for themselves, such as the Christian apostle Mark (Latin Marcus). As was the case with contemporary Jewish names of Greek origin, most of these Latin names are generally not associated with Jews today, and today retain a Roman and Christian character.
With the rise of Islam and the establishment of an Arab Caliphate, the Arabic language became the lingua franca of the Middle East and some parts of Berber North Africa. Islamic scripture such as the Qurʼan, however, contains many names of Hebrew origin (often via Aramaic), and there were Jewish and Christian minorities living under Arab Islamic rule. As such, many Hebrew names had been adapted to Arabic, and could be found in the Arab world. Jews and Christians generally used the Arabic adaptions of these names, just as in the present English-speaking Jews (and sometimes Muslims) often use Anglicized versions (Joshua rather than Yəhôšúªʼ, for instance.)
Such Hebræo-Arabic names include:
- ʼAyyūb أيّوب (from Hebrew איוב ʼIyyôḇ) (Job)
- Yūsuf يوسف (from Hebrew יוסף Yôsēp̄) (Joseph)
- Dāʼūd داۇد (from Hebrew דוד Dāwiḏ) (David)
- ʼIsmāʻīl اسماعيل (from Hebrew ישׁמעאל Yišmāʻêl) (Ishmael)
- ʼIsḥāq إسحاق (from Hebrew יצחק Yiṣḥāq) (Isaac)
- Yaʻqūb يعقوب (from Hebrew יעקב Yaʻªqōḇ) (Jacob)
- ʼĀdam آدم (from Hebrew אדם ʼĀḏām) (Adam)
- Ḥawwāʼ حواء (from Hebrew חוה Ḥawwāh) (Eve)
The influence of Aramaic is observable in several names, notably ʼIsḥāq (Isaac), where the Syriac form is simply Îsḥāq, contrasting with more Hebraic forms such as Yaʻqūb (Jacob).
Some of these Arabic names preserve original Hebrew pronunciations that were later changed by regular sound shifts; thus Maryam corresponds to the form recorded by classical authors, whereas the second i in Miriam is the result of a later sound change (also observable in words such as migdal, recorded in the New Testament as Magdalene and in Palestinian Arabic as Majdala) which turned a in unstressed closed syllables into i.
Typically, Hebrew אל -ʼēl was adapted as ـايل -īl, and Hebrew יה -yāh as ـيا -yāʼ.
James I of England commissioned a translation of the Christian Bible from the original languages, including a translation of the Tanakh or Old Testament from Hebrew into English. This became known as the King James Version of the Bible, often referred to today by the abbreviation "KJV." The promotion of this translation spawned a whole new variety of Hebrew names that were considerably closer to the Hebrew language than their Greek counterparts. Examples include Asshur from אשור ʼAššûr instead of Ασσυρια Assyria, and Shem from שם Šēm instead of Σημ Sēm.
Even so, many KJV Old Testament names were not entirely without New Testament Greek influence. This influence mostly reflected the vowels of names, leaving most of the consonants largely intact, only modestly filtered to consonants of contemporary English phonology. However, all KJV names followed the Greek convention of not distinguishing between soft and dāḡeš forms of ב bêṯ. These habits resulted in multilingually fused Hebræo-Helleno-English names, such as Judah, Isaiah and Jeremiah. Additionally, a handful of names were adapted directly from Greek without even partial translations from Hebrew, including names such as Isaac, Moses and Jesse.
Along with names from the KJV edition of the New Testament, these names constitute the large part of Hebrew names as they exist in the English-speaking world.
- List of Hebrew names at Wiktionary
- Customs relating to the naming of a child from the Chabad sect of Hassidic Ultra-Orthodox Judaism
- Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Christian Names". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. – article on old testament naming from a Catholic perspective
- List of over 2500 Hebrew names used in Israel with pronunciation
- List of all first names used in Israel with pronunciation and statistics in Hebrew
- Top 10 Popular Hebrew Baby Names For Boys & Girls in 2010
- A list of all modern Hebrew names and their meaning
- List of all Hebrew first names used in Israel, all Hebrew Names For Boys & Girls ( 2016 Update )