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Changing a Name


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Cheshvan 10 5781
Question: May a jew change his or her name? How is that done?

Answer: In our Sedra, Avram and Sarai have their names changed to Avraham and Sarah, alluding to their elevated status as (future) leaders of a great nation. Yakov, Yehoshua and Binyamin, among others, will also undergo name changes. When and when not is this advisable in Jewish practice?

There is a Kabbalistic idea that parents are given a sense of Divine inspiration when they name their child, and if that name is used publicly for 30 days, it is best not to change the name. But there are exceptions: A name may be changed if that person is very ill (or an additional name - such as Chaim or Chaya - is added, which is what usually is done); if the name has negative connotations or was a villain (Nimrod or Vashti would be examples); or if the name causes embarrassment (Moran, if living in America?) or depression to the person. It is highly questionable to change a "normal" name on the advice of someone who claims to have "higher knowledge" and asserts that the name is not "a good fit" for the person.

To change the name, we traditionally say a "Mi Sheberach" at Torah reading using the new name. There is also a special Tefila at the end of many books of Tehilim that can be recited. But simply using the name for 30 days also establishes it.
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