Parshas Bereishis #1
Our Name Is Our Essence
"And Adam gave names to all the animals, and to the birds of the sky, and to all the beasts of the field" (Bereishis 2:20).
How did Adam know which names to bestow on countless species of beasts and birds? The Ramban writes that when Hashem showed Adam each individual creature, he was able to perceive its inherent nature. The name he gave expressed the animal's essence.
The Radak points out that these names were in Lashon HaKodesh, the Holy Tongue spoken by Adam and all of mankind until the Dor Haflagah. He cites a number of early names mentioned in the Torah which are derived from words in Lashon HaKodesh. Among them are Adam's own name, derived from the word adamah, literally "earth," because he was formed from the dust of the earth, and Noach, who would comfort (yinachem) the world.
Chazal teach that a person's name can be an important influence in his life. For example, Rus' name indicated that she would be the ancestress of King David, "who satiated (rivah) the Holy One, blessed be He, with songs and praises," a reference to the Book of Tehillim authored by King David (Berachos 7b).
The impact of a name can be positive, but it can be negative as well. Midrash Tanchuma (Haazinu 7) cautions parents to exercise care in choosing a child's name, "for sometimes a name can be a factor for good or for bad." The Midrash goes on to list the names of the desert Spies who slandered Eretz Yisrael, explaining how the name of each one was a portent of his future downfall.
The Rambam suggests that a penitent change his name as part of the process of repentance, as a way of saying that he is no longer the same person who sinned (Hilchos Teshuvah 2:4). This is not accepted halachic practice. The way to repent is by following the other practical guidelines listed by the Rambam, including confession, regret, and changing one's ways. Nonetheless, the Rambam's words do indicate how instrumental a person's name is in defining who he is.
Traditionally, a name is changed in a case of serious illness, by adding a name which is auspicious for life and health, such as Chaim ("life") or Rephael ("Hashem heals") for a man, or Chaya ("life") for a woman. Taamei HaMinhagim (p. 105, Kuntres Acharon) suggests Chanah, Sarah, and Yocheved as appropriate additional names for women. Among other segulos for childless couples, Rav Moshe Sternbuch mentioned changing either the husband's or wife's name, so that they will be more compatible (Teshuvos V'Hanhagos 1:790).
Changing one's given name should never be undertaken lightly; it can be extremely dangerous (see Taamei HaMinhagim ibid.). In all cases, one should never change a name without consulting a reliable halachic authority who is knowledgeable in this area.
Question for Discussion:
Your Hebrew name expresses your essence. If you could choose your own name, would you change it? If so, which name would you choose instead, and why?Click Here To Respond