What’s In A Name For A Jew?

Chavy Jo writes:

My given name is plain. Absolutely generic. I’m okay saying it here in the blogosphere because it is that plain: Amanda Edwards. Even my middle name is plain. I didn’t get through my senior year of high school without having another Amanda in my class. I graduated with five or six other Amandas, two who had the same middle name as me. When I went to get some film developed at the local Wal-Mart, the girl behind the counter was named Amanda Edwards, and she wanted to know why I wasn’t returning my library books; turns out they were confusing her for me. So what does this have to do with being a Jew by Choice?

During the process of conversion, I often lamented that my given name poorly defined who I really was. It was a name that attached me to my parents and my family, but it had no recognizable culture or history. It was just another American name. Not only that, but my parents can’t even remember why they named me Amanda. I was often told that although my surname didn’t sound "Jewish," it would now fall in line with all the Cohens and Levis in the eyes of G-d and the Jewish community. As for my first name, it had beauty and grace, but my entire childhood I’d had a plaque on my wall that defined Amanda as "worthy of love" and in Biblical prose, "For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." I struggled with a Hebrew name, because I clung to the idea that I should find the Hebrew for "beloved" or "worthy of love." My rabbi helped me with a few choices, and I eventually settled on Chaviva. I liked how it had the quintessential "ch" sound that so many struggle with, but it still had that piece of the first 20 odd years of my life.

My Jewish friends began calling me Chavy, and the blog I created to document and develop my academic and spiritual curiosities — Just Call me Chaviva — took on my Hebrew moniker. I had grand visions of adopting the name entirely on a day to day basis, I felt it defined me more than Amanda, despite that the two mean nearly the same thing. Amanda had a Christian undertone to it from my childhood, and Chaviva was who I had become, rather, who I had searched so long to find in myself. But there was that whole Edwards thing. Chaviva Edwards. Chaviva … Edwards?

I began telling myself I needed to marry a nice Jewish boy with a great Jewish last name, I needed to come full circle. I needed to have the name to fit the mind, the heart, the soul. Because a name is the first thing that people collect when they meet you, after of course the obvious physical aspects of a person. A name has power, it has the power to conjure feelings and ideas and thoughts about who a person is. Those powers being negative and positive, but inspiring none the less.

Growing up with a generic name taught me that a person is more than a name, but that was before my Jewish soul came out. It was never a problem when I was a girl from the Midwest with the background noted by friends and family alike as "European mutt." But the moment I began exploring Judaism professionally and really throwing myself into my soul, I found that Jews have certain names — or, at least, we think they do.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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