Hidden Inside Names


I love how Purim teaches that our names carry depth and meaning.  Take Esther our queen and star.  Her very name in Persian means star.  In Hebrew, her name means hidden and sure enough she not only hides her Jewish identity, but like a serious secret agent, also her intentions.

Did you remember that she is actually given two names?  “He brought up Hadassah, who is also Esther, his uncle’s daughter…” (Megillah Esther, 2:7).  The name Hadassah, Hebrew for myrtle, brings to mind the lovely myrtle tree, with smallish star shaped flowers and bluish, purplish berries- giving off a delightful spicy odor.  Wikipedia teaches that myrtle is the Mediterranean plant of love, connected with both Aphrodite and Venus- very apropriate, don’t you think?  Oh, did I mention that another Greek name for Venus is our stars name- ‘Astara’! Perhaps we can reconstruct Valentine’s Day and reclaim the myrtle as the new rose?

We can also look into uncle Mordechai’s name and discover the sweet smell of myrhh hidden inside Mordechai.   In the midrash (Esther Rabbah 2:5) we find, “just as myrhh (‘mor’) is head of the spices, Mordechai is the head in righteousness.” You’ve heard of ‘strong like bull’ or ‘brave like lion’, now we can add, ‘a leader like myrhh’. Names are never merely flat letters pressed into a page.

All of this leads me to my great ‘Aha’.  It came fourteen years ago, searching for a name for my new born son.  I was shocked into a profoundly fun realization gazing through lists of Hebrew names: Zev, Dov, Talia, Aviva, Ilan, Evan, and Devorah.  Have you guessed where I am going with this?  Our Hebrew schools and communities are filled with people named Wolf, Bear, Dew Drop, Spring, Tree, Rock and Bee!  Isn’t this wild!?

The amazing thing for me is that these names (and many more) are but one facet of a beautiful diamond that is also reflecting Jewish holidays, texts, prayers and ceremonies that deeply connect us with the land. Our ancestors wisely preserved this multifaceted diamond within our tradition, like ancient seeds stored in dry clay jugs, waiting for a generation like ours to recognize the potency of these particular facets.

Thankfully, the time has come when we can proudly proclaim Judaism as an ancient indigenous tradition.  We no longer teach that myth, story and ritual are “primitive” and “inferior”.  May we all find authentic ways to make these many connections with land and Jewish life self evident to ourselves, our families and our communities.

Please enjoy this small gift of names for fun and inspiration us as we explore and experiment our way into the future. My experience has been that they not only spice up our name games, but they help us share the ‘Aha’ that Judaism really is deeply connected to the land.  They help counter the assumption that these ideas were cooked up at some hippie hillel.  No, these ideas are as old as Adam, whose very name connects blood and earth (Heb: dom and adamah) inside one being.

Please email me with questions, reflections, new names for the list or just to say hi.  All the best,   david@maggiddavid.net

PS  A wild and crazy thought experiment in honor of Purim.  What if one of our yiddin was the first European to Vermont?  Instead of French, Yiddish would have won the day.  The wonderful state that is just a stones throw north of me would now be called Greenberg- Green Mountain- French for ‘ver(ts)-mont’!  Chag Purim Same’ach!!

Earthy Hebrew Names

Compiled by Maggid David Arfa


Abel – Breath                                        Adam-Earth
Admon- Red Peony                           Alon– Oak tree
Alyan- Heights                                    Arnon– Roaring Stream
Aryeh– Lion                                         Ari– Lion
Aviv- Spring                                         Barak– Lightning        
Beryl– Bear (Yid)                                Chaim- Life
Devir– Holy Place                                Dror, Deror– a Bird or Freedom
Efron–  A Bird                                      Eshkol– Grape Cluster
Evan– Stone                                         Eyal– Stag
Gal/ Gali– Wave or Mountain         Gilad/ Gilead– mntns e. of Jor Riv
Gur/ Guri– Young Lion                     Hersch– Deer (Yiddish)
Ilan- Tree                                            Ira- Swift ( Arabic)
Ittamar/ Ismar-Island of Palm     Jonah/ Yonah– Dove
Kaniel– Reed/ Stalk    Lavi- Lion    Meyer/ Meir– One Who Shines
Miron– A Holy Place  Namir– Leopard                 Naor- Light
Nir/Nirea – Plow/ Plowed Field    Nirel/Niriel– G?ds Plowed Field
Nitzan– Bud                                                              Ofer- A Young Deer
Oren/Orin/Orrin/Oron– Fir Tree or Cedar     Peretz- Burst Forth
Ranaan– Fresh                                                         Raviv- Rain or Dew
Rimon- Pomegranite                                   Shimshon/ Samson– Sun
Tal- Dew of light                                               Tivon– Student of Nature
Tsevi/ Tzvi– Deer             Vulf/ Velvel/ Wolf/ Wolfe – Wolf (Yid)
Yanir- He Will Plow                                        Zamir– Song; Nightingale
Zev/ Ze-ev– Wolf                                                     Zerach– Light Rising
Ziv/Zivi- To Shine



Adva– Wave; Ripple               Alona– Oak Tree        
Arava– Willow
Ariella– Lioness of G?D         Arna/ Arnit- Cedar   
Arnona/ Arnonit- Roaring Stream
Aviva– Spring                         Ayala- Deer; Gazelle
Berit– Well                              Bluma/ Blume– Flower(Yiddish)
Carmel/ Carmela/ Carmelit– Vineyard
Chaya– Life
Dafna– Laurel                         Dalia/ Dalit- Branch
Deborah/ Debra/ Devra/ Devorah– Kind words; Swarm of Bees
Degania– Corn                        Dova/ Doveva/Dovit– Bear
Efrona- Songbird                    Elana– Oak Tree
Esther– Star (Persian)
Gali/ Galit- Fountain or Spring        Ganit– Garden
Gayora- Valley of light                        Gina/ Ginat-Garden
Giva/ Givona– Hill                              Gornit- Granary
Gurit– Cub
Hadass/ Hadassah– Myrtle Tree    Hasida– Pious One; Stork
Herzlia- Deer (Yiddish)                       Hinda- Deer (Yid)
Ilana/ Ilanit- Oak Tree
Irit- Daffodil                                           Jasmine- Persian Flower
Jonina/ Yonina- Dove                       Kalanit- Anemone
Knarit/ Kanit– Sonbird                      Karna, Karnit– Rams Horn
Kelila– Laurel Crown (symbolizes victory)            Keren- Horn
Kochava– Star                                       Laila; Leila,Lila– Night
Levana, Livana– Moon, White                      Levona- Spice, Incense
Limor– My Myrrh                                 Livia, Livya- Crown, Lioness
Luza– Almond Tree                              Margalit- Pearl
Netta, Nteia- A Plant
Nili– A Plant                                            Nirit- Flowering         
Nitza- Bud
Nurit– Buttercup                                   Odera- Plow
Ophra, Ofra- Young Deer                  Orna, Ornit-Cedar                           
Penina, Peninit- Pearl or Coral
Peri– Fruit                                 Rachel- Ewe (symbolizing gentleness)
Raisa, Raizel– Rose (Yiddish)           Rakefet– Cyclamen
Rimona– Pomegranite                         Serafina– To Burn, (tree sap?)
Sharon- Biblical Plain where Roses Bloomed
Shoshana, Susan, Susannah– Lily or Rose
Sivia, Sivya, Tzvia– Deer
Tal, Talia- Dew                                  Tamar, Tamara– date Palm
Tirza– Cypress                                    Tori– My Turtledove
Varda, Vered- Rose                          Vida, Vita– Life
Yarkona– Green; Bird in Southern Israel; River in Northern Israel
Yemima- Dove                                    Yona, Yonit– Dove
Ze’eva, Zeva- Wolf                              Zipporah, Tzipporah– Little Bird
Zivanit- Mayflower                             Zorah, Zora– Dawn (Arabic)

BAUM NAMES (Yiddish/German -Tree)

Buxbaum– Box tree                Feigenbaum- Fig Tree
Applebaum- Apple Tree       Birnbaum- Pear Tree
Nussbaum– Nut Tree            Tannenbaum- Fir Tree
Greenbaum- Green Tree    Goldbaum- Gold Tree
Kleinbaum– Little Tree

These names were compiled from:
1.  Buxbaum, Yitzhak, A Tu Beshvat Seder.  Jewish Spirit Publications, NY, 1998.
2.  Diamant, Anita, The New Jewish Baby Book.  Jewish Lights Publishing, VT, 1994.

Maggid David Arfa is dedicated to sharing Judaism’s storytelling heritage and ancient environmental wisdom.  Quality performances, workshops, and teacher trainings allow participants to explore story images, the natural world, traditional texts, and contemporary life.  The goals of these programs include expanding the participant’s religious experience and enriching their spiritual imagination.CD’s Now Available: The Birth of Love: Tales for the Days of Awe, includes David’s retelling of ancient mythology, Old World Yiddish tales (set in the Berkshire foothills), medieval folktales and more.

NEW CD: The Life and Times of Herschel of Ostropol: The Greatest Prankster Who Ever LivedLight hearted folktales and Yiddish stories about Herschel, his wife Ida and life in Ostropol Ukraine.

For more information, please contact:
Maggid David Arfa, Shelburne Falls, MA
david@maggiddavid.net:  www.maggiddavid.net

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