Have you ever thought about what influence your name has on you—on your personality, behavior patterns and life choices?
A research body suggests that an individual’s name can have a profound impact that can reverberate from childhood to adulthood. A study by professors at the University of Melbourne and New York University found that people with simple, easy-to-pronounce names are more likely to be favored for a promotion at work. “The impact of names comes from how people expect to see you,” says a professor from Ohio University. And while pre-judging people based on their name might seem unfair, we sometimes do so subconsciously when making decisions.
An individual’s name can have a profound impact
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes how in Thailand, when faced with a patch of bad luck, many are changing their names to create better prospects. Businesses advising Thais how to choose new names are becoming a booming new industry.
So research indicates that a person’s name can even affect career choices. But is the significance of a name just about perceptions, or is there something innately spiritual about the name itself that has a power over the individual?
Names are considered very significant in Judaism. Your Jewish name is the channel by which life reaches you from Above. In fact, the Kabbalists say that when parents name a child, they experience a minor prophecy—because, somehow, that child’s destiny is wrapped up in the combination of Hebrew letters that make up his or her name. The sages of the Midrash recommend that “one should name one’s child after a righteous person, for sometimes the name influences the person’s behavior and destiny” (Midrash Tanchuma, Haazinu 7).
If a name has an intrinsic effect on the person, can a change of name change one’s destiny?
Changing one’s name to create a change of fortune actually has its roots in Judaism. That’s why if someone is dangerously ill, we might provide him with an additional name, like Chaim (or Chaya), meaning “life,” or Refael (or Refaela), “cure.”
The first recorded story of a name change that led to an incredible change of destiny was If someone is dangerously ill, we might provide him with an additional name that of Sarah and Abraham.
The episode took place when Abraham was 90 years old. God appeared to him and told him that He would be making an everlasting covenant with him, and that he and Sarah would be blessed with a child of their own. Let’s see how the text reads:
And Abram was ninety-nine years old, and God appeared to Abram, and He said to him, “I am the Almighty God; walk before Me and be perfect. And I will place My covenant between Me and between you, and I will multiply you very greatly… And your name shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. And I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings will emerge from you. (Gen. 17: 1-2, 4-5)
God then commanded Abraham that he and all his male children should be circumcised as a sign of the covenant. His wife’s name, Sarai, should also be changed, and then she would experience the miracle of childbirth despite her old age.
And God said to Abraham, “Your wife Sarai—you shall not call her name Sarai, for Sarah is her name. And I will bless her, and I will give you a son from her, and I will bless her, and she will become a mother of nations; kings of nations will be from her.” And Abraham fell on his face and rejoiced, and he said to himself, “Will a child be born to one who is a hundred years old, and will Sarah, who is ninety years old, give birth?” (Gen. 17: 15-17)
The Talmud explains that Abraham and Sarah’s change of name created a change in their status—rather than a particular mission, they now assumed a universal mission. The Talmud (Brachot 13a) explains:
Abram who is Abraham. In the beginning he was the father to Aram, in the end he became the father of the world. Sarai, this is Sarah. In the beginning she was Sarai to this nation and in the end she became Sarah to the whole world.
Abram rather than a particular mission, they now assumed a universal mission means “Av Ram,” father of Aram, since he originated from the city of Aram Naharayim. His name was changed to Abraham, “Av Hamon Goyim,” father of a multitude of nations.
Gen. 17:15 expounds:
Sarai, given her name by Abraham, means “Sarasi Sheli,” my princess and superior. Abraham was now commanded that in his new status of “Av Hamon Goyim,” the father of a multitude of nations, his wife, too, was to take on a more universal status which would be reflected in the name, Sarah, princess par excellence and not just princess of Abraham.
Let’s take a closer look at the text describing these name changes. God told Abraham, “Your name shall become Abraham.” Regarding Sarah’s name change, on the other hand, the text reads, “Sarah is her name.”
Abraham required an added dimension and spiritual transformation to become Abraham. Sarah, though, already was Sarah.
The Talmud (Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin 2;6) explains:
Rabbi Huna said, quoting Rabbi Acha: The letter yud which was removed from Sarai’s name was divided into two letters, one hei was added to Abram and the other to Sarah.
The change in Sarai’s name involved the division of the yud of Sarai into two heis. Yud, numerically equivalent to ten, was split into two heis, numerically equivalent to 5, to share of Sarai’s spirituality. Therefore, the text reads, “Sarah is her name;” Sarai already represented all the spirituality of Sarah.
In fact this yud taken from Sarai’s name was later added to her descendant’s name, Joshuah, Moses’ successor. He was one of the 12 spies sent to survey the land of Israel. Though his name was originally Hoshea, Moshe changed his name to Yehoshuah, Joshua, gifting him with the present of Sarah’s spiritual yud. This gave him an added dimension of spirituality, so that he would have the courage to withstand the plot of the spies and bring back a true, positive report about the Land to the Jewish people. His new name achieved the sought after results, as only he and one other spy refuted the others’ negative report.
Aside from teaching us about Sarah’s incredible spiritual strength and her ability to share it with others, the episode demonstrates that there’s more to a name than meets the eye.
So what’s in a name? Apparently lots.
A name connects us to our soul. It provides us with spiritual ammunition, allowing usA name connects us to our soul. to access spiritual strengths we may have never known we had.
How about you? What’s your Jewish name? Do you use it proudly? Is it time to research what it means and what hidden spiritual powers it holds?
When Abram was 90, G‑d appeared to him to make an everlasting covenant, change his name, and inform him that he would have a child from Sarah.
Abram’s name was changed to Abraham, meaning “the father of a multitude of nations.” With this new name, he underwent a spiritual transformation and was entrusted with a universal mission.
God also informed Abraham that Sarai’s name would now be Sarah, “a princess for the whole world.”
The letter yud, which is numerically ten, was taken off of Sarai’s name and split into two heis, numerically five. One hei was added to Abram’s name and the other one to Sarah’s name. Therefore the text says, “Sarah is her name.” She already encompassed the full spirituality of her name.
When parents name their child, they experience a minor prophecy. A name connects an individual to his soul and can affect his destiny.