Another look at Jewish given names in the Ultra-Orthodox community

Over the past few years I’ve collected many lists of Jewish given names. Lists come from books from the 19th and early 20th century, including from Poland in 1886 and 1928, from the US in 1925 and 1939, and the more recent lists of Israeli names. For a full look at the name lists I’ve published, see the Names page.

Recently I published a list of articles on names from an Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) group in Israel. This is an area I’ve long wanted to analyze, but haven’t had enough data. There are many reasons this group is interesting, but one is that they continue to use names that have fallen out of favor with the rest of the Jewish community, in particular Yiddish names (although Yiddish names were not preferred by the previously mentioned Israeli group). While I myself am Orthodox, I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on the lives of the Ultra-Orthodox community, which in the US is centered in New York, particularly in sections of Brooklyn. One of the problems I had was finding a source of names that was accurate, and available to me online, when this community tends to avoid using the Internet. Another problem I had was the desire to have the names in both English and Hebrew. While one could find ways of collecting names from newspapers, they would usually be in only one language. Having the names in both languages is helpful for identifying unusual names, and also lets one see the variations of how a name in Hebrew is used in English (more on that in a bit).

A couple of years ago I came across a possible source of names, which were the posting of information on families in mourning in the community. In the communities where there were large Ultra-Orthodox populations, these mourning details would be published in the local Jewish newspapers, although only in English as far as I could find. However, they also started to post the names online, and in most cases the online version had the full names in Hebrew as well (the deceased’s name, and depending on whether they were Ashkenazi or Sephardi, the name of the father or mother). The problem with these online postings was that they only had a few names at a time, only those whose families were sitting Shiva (which means in most cases that they had to have died in the past week). It was impractical to collect enough names to learn anything, when you could only get a few names at a time, and then had to wait another week or so, to possibly get more names.

The posts are actually incredible genealogical sources, not only because they give information on the deceased (including the name of one of their parents), but because they list the mourners and their relationships to the deceased. Since the community tends to have many children, these lists can be quite long. Here’s an example of one listing:

A list of mourners published online by Misaskim

I’ve blurred out the surnames and phone numbers from the listing, but let’s summarize. In addition to the name of the deceased in both Hebrew and English, there are twenty-two mourners listed, including her spouse, both parents, seven siblings, and twelve children. While not all have given names (some married daughters do not), there are ten different surnames, allowing one to connect the families together. One note about the phone numbers. In the earlier listings, there was a notice pointing out that phone numbers were not included to protect privacy and prevent unwanted solicitations. As COVID-19 hit, and it became impossible to have a shiva in-person, that notice and the name of the neighborhood went away, and individual phone numbers for many of the mourners started to be published. As restrictions lifted in more recent months, a combination of the approaches began to show up, with some listing phone numbers, some having in-person, some requiring vaccinations and masks, etc.

What given names are shown in this one family? Rivka Yocheved, Shulem Yoseph, Benzion, Devorah, Avraham Shloma, Yaakov Eliezer, Moshe Aaron, Yechezkel Shraga, Chesky, Lipa, Yoel Yeshaya, Chaim Mordachai, Malky, Leah’la, and Freidy. For my purposes, however, only two of the names have both the English and Hebrew shown, that of the deceased and that of her father. However, as I collected the names, I didn’t actually collect the mourners names, so in my list I would have the Hebrew for both, but only the English for the deceased.

While I initially did not collect these names because it would have taken too long to accumulate enough names to make it worthwhile, I realized I could collect the names from archived copies of these posts that were stored in the Internet Archive. A lucky find of the posts being re-published on a different site, expanded the number of archived posts considerably. I went through a few hundred posts, and manage to collect over 1300 names in both Hebrew and English. There are many more given names that in Hebrew, since their full name frequently had at least two names for themselves and their parent (and some people have up to five Hebrew names). Of course many names repeat in the list, but from those repeated names in Hebrew, it was possible to glean a lot from the parallel English names.

The data is a bit messy, so I’m hesitant to post the full list itself, but I wanted to show some of the information I found. Keep in mind that while the names here come from people being mourned by people in the Ultra-Orthodox community, not all of the people themselves were Ultra-Orthodox. My impression is that the list contains Ultra-Orthodox and adjacent people, such as children and parents that may not be quite as strict (although most of the people are probably Orthodox).

Let’s start with the names of the matriarchs and patriarchs, which are perennially popular (although historically this wasn’t true until the middle ages).

שרהSarahSura, Surie, Sury, Sarala, Sheila, Sonia, Eva
רבקהRivka (Rebecca)Rifka, Rivky, Ruth, Roseline, Robin, Renee, Regina
רחלRachelRochel, Rochela, Rochelle, Ruchel, Ruchele, Ruchie, Ray, Raye, Rose, Rozy, Ruth
לאהLeahLea, Lila, Lillian, Lily, Linda, Livia, Loretta, Lorraine, Lucy, Lynn
Orthodox usage of Matriarch names

The first variants are basically alternate pronunciations and diminutives of the names (although at least in this data set none of those for the name Leah). The later variants are simply English names used by these women, which map only loosely to the names, usually starting with the same letter.

One interesting name that shows up is Ruth. Note that it shows up as an alternate name for both Rivka and Rachel. Four different women in this dataset had the Hebrew name רחל (Rachel), but the English name Ruth. Ruth of course is also a biblical name, being the subject of the Book of Ruth, and being the great-grandmother of King David. My own great-grandmother changed her name from Rachel to Ruth around 1920 – the story goes because Rachel sounded too Jewish and she couldn’t get a job. She changed her name to Ruth and the next day got a job as an operator at Macy’s (where she met my great-grandfather who was working there as a security guard). Another similar name may be Rose/Rozy, which may have also have sounded less Jewish at the time.

Here are the patriarchal names:

אברהםAbrahamAvrohom, Avrum, Avi, Arthur, Alan, Arlen, Harry
יצחקYitzchak (Isaac)Yitzchok, Isidore
יעקבYaakov (Jacob)Yankel, Jack, Jakey, Gerald
Orthodox usage of Patriarch names

These follow a similar pattern to the matriarchal names, and similarly reflect the fact that many of the people in these records were named in the pre-war period, and shared common English ‘translations’ of names like Isidore for Isaac, and Jack for Jacob. Note that Isidore was also commonly given to those whose Hebrew name was Yisrael (Israel). Also note that while in English Jack is a diminutive of John, it was commonly used by Jewish immigrants as an English version of Jacob. I discuss this specific name derivation in my article Don’t get stuck inside the box, where I mention my own grandfather Jack who was known alternately as Jakob (in Austria), Yankel (in Poland), Jacques (in Belgium), and Jack (in the US). This article discusses several issues that genealogists sometimes get stuck on, but shouldn’t (like assuming someone named Jakob in one record isn’t the same person as someone names Jack in another).

One interesting name was צבי יהודא (Tzvi Yehuda) that was Herschel Leib in English. At first glance those are different names, but in fact both names pair very clearly. Tzvi Hersch is a common name pairing, where Tzvi and Hersch are the Hebrew and Yiddish words for deer (-el is marks a diminutive in Yiddish). Yehuda Leib is also a common pairing, where Yehuda is compared to a lion in his blessing from his father Jacob (Genesis 49), and Leib is Yiddish for lion. See my article Animals and Name Pairs in Jewish Given Names for more information on these kinds of pairings.

The following table shows all the female names that showed up at least twice in the list:

בילאBeilaBila, Bella, Blanche
בלימא, בלימהBlimaBlimi, Blimu, Bea, Blanka
בריינדלBreindelBetty, Bea, Bernice
חנהChanaAnna, Annette, Anita, Arlene, Chany, Helen, Charlotte, Eileen, Hillary
חוהChavaChavie, Eva, Evelyn
חיהChayaHelen, Claire, Eileen, Eleanor, Vivian
דבורהDevoraDora, Dorothy, Doreen
עלקאElkaEleanor, Estelle
אסתרEstherEstelle, Esta, Esti, Esty, Edith, Else, Erna, Norma
פיגה, פייגאFaiga, FeigaFeigi, Faigy, Fay, Frances
פייגלFaigelFaigy, Fanny
פריידאFreidaFreidy, Francis
פריידל, פראדלFreidelFraidel, Fradel, Frieda, Felice
גננדלGendelJenny, Lisa
גיטלGittelGitty, Gertrude, Geraldine, Gussy
גאלדהGoldaGoldie, Gisella
הינדאHindaHindy, Helen, Olga
קילאKailaKaylu, Klara
לאהLeahLea, Lila, Lillian, Lily, Linda, Livia, Loretta, Lorraine, Lucy, Lynn
מלכהMalkaMalky, Mildred, Madeline, Magda, Maxine
מאשהMashaMarcia, Magda
מזלMazalMabel, Fortune
מינהMinaMinna, Minnie
מינדלMindelMindy, Madeline
מירלMirelMirele, Miri, Muriel
נחמהNechamaNatalie, Norma
פערלPerelPearl, Perl, Pauline, Phyllis, Piroska
פעסיPessyPauline, Phyllis
רחלRachelRochel, Rochela, Rochelle, Ruchel, Ruchele, Ruchie, Ray, Raye, Rose, Rozy, Ruth
רייזלRaizelReizel, Rose
רבקהRivka (Rebecca)Rifka, Rivky, Ruth, Roseline, Robin, Renee, Regina
רויזאRozaRosa, Rose, Roizy, Roselyn
שרהSarahSura, Surie, Sury, Sarala, Sheila, Sonia, Eva
שיינדלShaindelShayndel, Shaindy, Charlotte, Cynthia, Janice
שפרא, שפרהShifraShyfra, Saundra, Shirley, Charlotte
שלמית, שולמיתShulamisSchulamith, Shlomis
טויבאTaubeToby, Eva
טובא, טובהTovaToba, Toby, Tauba
צפורהTziporaTzippy, Tzippori, Francis
יהודיתYehudisYidis, Judith, Judy, Yolan, Isabelle,
יוטאYutaYita, Judith, Judy
זיסלZisselZissy, Giselle

The following table shows all the male names that showed up at least twice in the list:

אברהםAbrahamAvraham, Avrohom, Avrom, Avrum, Avi, Arthur, Alan, Arlen, Harry
אהרוןAharon (Aaron)Ahron, Aron, Arnold, Arkady, Arthur
אריהAryehLeibel, Leiby, Leo, Leon
אשרAsherUsher, Allen
ברוךBaruchBoruch, Bert
בן ציון, בנציוןBenzionBenTzion, Bernie
בנימיןBinyamin (Benjamin)Binyomin, Binyamen, Bernard, Bernie
חייםChaimHenry, Herbert
דניאלDanielDanny, Donny
דודDavidDovid, Duvid
דובDovBerel, Berl, Berish
אפריםEfraimEphraim, Ephrayim
אלעזרElazarLouis, Larry
אליעזרEliezerLazer, Lezer, Louis, Leonard
אליהוEliyahuEli, Elias, Ellis, Elliot
גדליהGedaliaGedayla, Gilbert
גרשוןGershonGeorge, Joshua
הערשHerschHersh, Heshy, Harry
הלל, היללHillel
אייזיק, איזיק, אייציקIsaacYiddish spellings of Yitzchak
מאירMeirMeyer, Michael, Marvin, Warren
מלךMelechMarc, Mark
מנחםMenachemMendel, Martin
מנדל, מענדלMendel
מרדכיMordechaiMordche, Motti, Marcus, Martin
משהMoshe (Moses)Moishe, Morris, Murray, Moussa, Martin, Marcel, Mark
נתןNathanNosson, Nussen, Norman
פנחסPinchasPinchos, Pinchus
רחמיםRachamimRaymond, Ramon
רפאלRaphaelRafael, Rafuel, Refael, Rephael, Ralph
ראובןReuvenRobert, Richard
שלוםShalomSholom, Shulem, Sidney
שמעוןShimonSimon, Semyon
שלמהShlomo (Solomon)Shlomie, Sol, Selim, Sammy
שמואלShmuel (Samuel)Sam, Sammy, Shmiel, Stanley, Stuart
שמחהSimchaSimchie, Steven, Sheldon
טוביהTuviaTuviya, Toby, Zoltan
צביTzviTsvi, Hersch, Herschel, Harry, Herman
וועלוועל, וואלוועלVelvel
יעקבYaakov (Jacob)Yankel, Jack, Jakey, Gerald
יחזקאלYechezkelChaskel, Harold
יהושעYehoshuaShia, Shea, Saul
יהודאYehudaLeib, Jeno, Juda, Yidel, Leo, Yida
ישעיהYeshayaShaya, Shia
ישראלYisrael (Israel)Yisroel, Izzy, Irving, Sruly, Sydney
יצחקYitzchak (Isaac)Yitzchok, Isidore
יואלYoel (Joel)
יונתןYonatanYonasan, Yonason
יוסףYosef (Joseph)Youssef
יודאYudaYida, Ervin
זאבZevVolf, Velvel, Walter, William, Willy
זישא, זיסאZishe
לייבש, לייבישLeibish
נטא, נטה, נטעNuta
פייוועל, פייוילFeivel
קאפל, קאפעלKoppel
חנינא, חנינהChaninaHoward

6 thoughts on “Another look at Jewish given names in the Ultra-Orthodox community

  1. Hi. Very interesting article! I wonder if you could help. I am looking for some kind of a list or a publication that lists Jewish given names and their Russian equivalents. My father was born in Lithuania in 1923 and was registered at the rabbinate as Sholem Shleime. In 1927 or 1929 he and his family left Lithuania for Russia. There he became Semyon. There are no official name-change documents and even if they were there is no way to get them out of Russia at this time. I am a native Russian speaker so if this list is in Russian there will be no problem translating it. I currently live in the United States

    1. Boris, you want a book published in Zhitomer in 1911 by Iser Kulisher. I can’t write the original name in Russian, but Boris Feldblyum translated much of the book into English in 1998, and that book is called Russia-Jewish Given Names. Unfortunately, that version is only in English, even though the original has both Russian and Hebrew. I plan to publish lists of the Hebrew names at some point, but for the Russian you’d need to look at the original. Here’s a scan of the cover page in Russian. I have a scan of the book, but it’s a bit large to send. Send me an e-mail and perhaps we can find a way to get it to you.

      1. I just found out that there is a 3 volume encyclopedia in Russian called “Hebrew names, surnames, and tribes” published in 2003 in Russian. Unfortunately, tis author died. Author’s name is V.R. Irina-Kagan. Olympia press. I will try to get it but now it is extremely difficult to send it from Russia to the United States.

      2. Keep in mind that the other book was published close to when your father was born, and may be more accurate as to naming practices at the time.

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