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, email@example.com
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
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
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
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
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.
NEW CD: The Life and Times of Herschel of Ostropol: The Greatest Prankster Who Ever Lived– Light 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