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The first sign that comes to mind when speaking of Jewish identity are Jewish names. As far back in Jewish history as one can go Jews have had both Hebrew (or later on in European history, Yiddish) and secular names. Esther (See The Book of Esther), for example, had both the names Esther and Haddasah.
Jews have developed two naming customs. Jews of Middle European descent (Ashkenazic Jews) name children after deceased relatives. Jews from Spain, Portugal, Italy, North Africa and the Middle East (commonly referred to as Sephardic Jewish), on the other hand, name children after living grandparents. In either case the Jewish name signifies a Jewish identity, an identity that comes to the fore especially in synagogue when one is called to the Torah. In the unit on birth we will discuss naming ceremonies. For now let us consider the following questions:
Some people take on Jewish names as adults. They may be converts or Jews from birth that were never given a Jewish name by their parents. In these cases names can be a sign of a new- found or deepening Jewish identity.
Our first models for this mid-life change of name are Abraham and Sarah. According to Genesis God initiated this change. Consider these verses from Genesis 17:5 and 15.
No longer shall your name be called Avram,
God said to Avraham:
Note that both Avraham and Sarah names were changed through the addition of the letter hey (English equivalent of H) in their name, a letter that signifies the presence of God.
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