The 40 Year Old Bat Mitzvah

A Good Name

Posted in personal growth, philosophizing, rituals by Juliet on June 16, 2010

I’m in the market for a new name.

Not “Juliet.”  I’m perfectly happy with my English name.

What I need is the perfect Hebrew name.

When I’m called to the Torah for my very own bat mitzvah this December, I want it to be with my shiny new Hebrew name, so that’s the deadline I’m giving myself.

I wasn’t given a Hebrew name when I was born.  I didn’t have a bat mitzvah as a child so I wasn’t given one then.  I have heard of female converts taking the Hebrew name “Sarah” (after the first woman to adopt Judaism along with her husband, Abraham), but no matter how non-Jewish “Juliet Drucilla” sounds, I was born Jewish.

I took on a Hebrew name a dozen or so years ago, when I attended a women’s retreat led by a female rabbi affiliated with the Conservative movement who was an expert in the meaning and symbolism behind names.

The name I chose was “Chava,” which I love in part because it is the Hebrew version of my great-grandma’s name, Eva.  (There wa a bunch of other important symbolism which I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t remember, other than that it was a positive, “good” name that won the rabbi-expert’s stamp of approval.)

Years passed, though, and I hardly used the name.  I was called to the bimah a handful of times and when asked for my Hebrew name, said:  “Chava bat Ruth.”  But really, the name never resonated with me.  Despite a strong soul-level connection with my great-grandmother (who died when I was only eight),  the name never felt like a true part of me.

We named our first child Eva (though her Hebrew name is not Chava, but rather “Batya,” and she has Russian and Yiddish variants of her name too:  Basia and Bashie.)

Without really thinking it through, we gave our daughter the Hebrew name “Batya bat Chava” despite the fact that her own English name also translates to Chava, which doesn’t seem like a big deal but is something she’ll always have to explain or at least clarify.

So that, combined with my feeling that I chose wrong for myself first time around leads me to this moment:  woman in search of a good name.

It’s not as easy as it sounds.  Many Jews use their English name as a starting place, but my name starts with a sound not found in the Hebrew language. (The “J” sound in foreign words is pronounced by Hebrew speakers with a soft zch-like sound.)  The closest thing Hebrew has is a Y-like letter, and I remember the name-expert-rabbi from years ago finding spiritual flaws with the few names that start with it.  Yael.  A good name in general but bad for me (again for some reason I don’t remember.  I crossed it off the mental checklist and moved on.)  Yardena (Jordana.)  A pretty name with the negative connotation of moving downward (like the flow of the Jordan River.)  And that’s about it for the Ys.

One night during our stay at Ramah I was thinking a lot about the name issue.  We were driving on a dark road at night and as we rounded a corner, suddenly a giant spread of wings appeared and swooped up in front of us.  An owl!  It was thrilling.  Owls are cool.  Owls are wise.  I figured it was a sign and when we got back to civilization I tried to find some name that is the Hebrew equivalent of “wise female owl.”  Turns out, however, that owls are considered bad luck in traditional Judaism.

So then I thought about just choosing a name whose sound I like.  Did you know “Mahalia” is a Hebrew name?  And wouldn’t it be kind of awesome to have a legitimate reason to demand people start calling me Mahalia?

Gospel singer and civil rights activist Mahalia Jackson

But alas, since I’m on a spiritual quest, it feels too shallow to simply choose name because it’s pretty.

Then there’s pure, random chance.  I get an email newsletter from Procter & Gamble (“Top Ten Cleaning Tips!”  “Five Ways to Dust!”)  One day mine arrived as usual, but addressed to the wrong name.  “Dear Eliana,” it began.

It’s a beautiful name meaning “God has answered.”  I’m living with it for a few weeks to see whether I still like it in July.  Batya bat Eliana.  Nesia bat Eliana.  Compared to Scott’s Hebrew name (Yakov Meir ben Pinya Chaim) it’s practically elegant.  Stay tuned.

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2 Responses

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  1. ram0singhal said, on June 16, 2010 at 1:37 AM

    Name has no meaning and meaning has no name ,knowing meaning you can dance with
    different names, different roles, different films but on screen comes the original either at the start of the film or at end of the film that is mostly the case ,you are blessed one divine that it appeared at the start of the film…….enjoy your roles ……and names……
    bless you….

    • Laura said, on September 2, 2013 at 4:59 AM

      [“Haaretz is one of the most important neprawpess in the world right now”I couldn’t stop laughing for ten minutes. You are disconnected from reality. ]On the other hand; well, it has the excitement and fun of competition This is a challenge for everyone to do their own best

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