Monday, May 01, 2006

On Jewish names

Orthomom posts about Jewish names:
Speaking of Jewish names, I've noticed another amusing phenomenon in my community. I was at the pediatrician's office last week with one of the OrthoKids, and the nurse came out to the waiting room to call some patients into the examination rooms. "Uh...Philip and Natalie?" Silence. "Philip and Natalie Schwartz?" At this, a little boy with a large velvet yarmulka and payos, and his sister, who was wearing a uniform identifiable as being from one of the more religious girls' schools in the area, jumped up just as their mother called out "Nechama and Paysach, our turn!" I mean, come on. We live in America. It is 2006. If the Pakistani child sitting next to me in the waiting room can get called in with the name "Kumar", and the Hispanic child across from me can have the name "Estralita" on her chart, why is it necessary to have Orthodox children addressed as "Philip and Natalie"?
It's a fair question. Notwithstanding possible concerns about the relative success of Americans with more common names as contrasted with those with more obviously ethnic names (a study a couple of years ago purported to draw a distinction between opportunities for a job interview afforded to people with very similar resumes, with the exception that one group had common American names and the other unusual ethnic sounding ones), Orthomom asks a good question. The truth is that people with relatively unusual sounding names get by in America, whether named Rutherford or Adlai or Condoleeza or Scooter. So why do young Jewish moms insist on naming their little ones Gertrude and Isadore?

While that may be a good question, the facts are that the record shows that standard Jewish behavior for millenia has been to use both purely Jewish as well as non-Jewish names. Whether we are talking about names like Shaul (Canaanite*) or Pinchas (Egyptian) or Mordechai (Babylonian) or Antigonus [e.g., ish socho] (Greek) or Aquila (Latin) or Huna (Aramaic) or Maimon (Arabic) or Zalman (Juedische) or Irving or Aidan (Sex and the City), Jews have borne all sorts of names. And we've given lots of names to the cultures of the world as well. In fact, more have probably flowed from our direction than towards our direction.

So what to make of it? I don't know. Only that there is not apparently anything unordinary about what Orthomom witnessed at the doctor's office.

Oh, and parenthetically, want to know an awesome non-Jewish Jewish name? Shadal named one of his sons Philoxene, the Latin equivalent of "Ohev Ger," the title of one of his seforim, a work on Targum Onkelos.

*Okay, you could make the case that there is little distinction between Canaanite and Israelite names, except for the theophoric element--if that.

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