Brainy Bunny is married to a conservative rabbi and has extensive experience with living an observant Jewish life.
When you find out that you're going to have a child, you have so many things to think about and plan for. One of the most important decisions you'll have to make is what to name him. Do you want to be traditional and name him after a deceased relative, choose a secular name and a separate religious name, or choose something funky and different altogether? Whichever route you decide on, here are some popular Jewish and Hebrew boys' names to consider for your new son.
Many of the most popular names in the United States are of biblical origin, which makes it easy to choose a name that honors your heritage, yet stays current with trends. More than a dozen biblical names are on the list of most popular baby names during the past 100 years (from 1912–2011), and more than two dozen are currently in the top 100 according to Social Security. This list includes all the popular biblical names from that data (during the past 100 years, past decade, and currently).
(Note: For the most part these names have been Anglicized through the years; you can use the Anglicized version as a secular name and the original Hebrew version as a religious name.)
Most Popular Biblical Jewish Baby Names for Boys in the U.S.
- Aaron—Aaron was a prophet, high priest, and the brother of Moses. When Moses first confronted the Egyptian king about the Israelites, Aaron served as his brother's spokesman to the Pharaoh.
- Adam—Adam and Eve, according to the Abrahamic religions, were the first man and woman. They are central to the belief that humanity is in essence a single family, with everyone descended from a single pair of original ancestors.
- Benjamin—The last-born of Jacob's thirteen children. He was the progenitor of the Israelite Tribe of Benjamin.
- Caleb—Caleb appears in the Torah as a representative of the Tribe of Judah during the Israelites' journey to the Promised Land.
- Daniel—He is the hero of the biblical Book of Daniel. He is a noble Jewish youth of Jerusalem, taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. He served the king and his successors with loyalty until the time of the Persian conqueror Cyrus, while still remaining true to the God of Israel.
- David—David is the third king of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah after Saul and Ish-bosheth. David was a young shepherd who first gained fame as a musician and later by killing Goliath. Later, worried that David is trying to take his throne, Saul turns on David. After Saul and Jonathan are killed in battle, David is anointed as King. Having conquered Israel, David took the Ark of the Covenant into the city, establishing the kingdom founded by Saul. As king, David famously committed adultery with Bathsheba. This lead him to arrange the death of her husband (Uriah the Hittite). Due to his sin, God denies David the opportunity to build the temple. His son, Absalom, eventually tries to overthrow him. This leads to David fleeing Jerusalem during Absalom's rebellion. However, after Absalom's death, he returns to the city to rule Israel.
- Eli—Eli was a High Priest of Shiloh. He delivers God's message to Hannah and Elkanah that they will become parents of a son. The child is named Samuel.
- Elijah—Elijah was a prophet and a miracle worker who lived during the reign of King Ahab (in the 9th century B.C.). In 1 Kings 18, Elijah defended the worship of the Hebrew God over that of the Canaanite deity of Baal. God performed many miracles through Elijah. He most famous miracle was performing a resurrection. He also brought down fire from the sky, and entered Heaven alive "by fire."
- Ethan—Ethan was a cymbal-player in King David's court. He authored Psalm 89. Some theorize that this was the same person as Jeduthun.
- Gabriel—Gabriel was an archangel. Alongside archangel Michael, Gabriel is described as the guardian angel of Israel. He defended the jewish people against the angels of the other nations.
- Isaac—Isaac is one of the three patriarchs of the Israelites. According to the biblical Book of Genesis, he was the son of Abraham and Sarah and father of Jacob. His name means "he will laugh."
- Isaiah—He is the Prophet for whom the Book of Isaiah is named. Isaiah was a descendant of the royal house of Judah and Tamar and was the son of Amoz.
- Jacob—Later given the name Israel, he is regarded as a main Patriarch of the Israelites. He is the son of Isaac and Rebecca and the grandson of Abraham, Sarah, and Bethuel. Jacob had twelve sons, leading to the twelve tribes of Israel.
- Jeremiah—Also known as the "weeping prophet," was one of the major prophets of the Torah. According to Jewish tradition, Jeremiah authored the Book of Jeremiah, the Books of Kings, as well as the Book of Lamentations,
- Jeremy—Short for Jeremiah.
- Jesse—He is a figure described in the Bible as the father of David.
- Jonathan—Johnathan is a heroic figure in 1 Samuel in the Hebrew Bible. A prince of the United Kingdom of Israel, he was the eldest son of King Saul as well as a close friend of David
- Joseph—Sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, he rose to become vizier, the second most powerful man in Egypt next to Pharaoh, where his presence and office caused Israel to leave Canaan and settle in Egypt.
- Joshua—Joshua was Moses' assistant and became the leader of the Israelite tribes after the death of Moses.
- Josiah—Josiah was a seventh-century BCE king of Judah (c. 649–609) who, according to the Hebrew Bible, instituted major religious reforms. Josiah is credited by most biblical scholars with having established or compiled important Hebrew Scriptures during the "Deuteronomic reform" which probably occurred during his rule. Josiah became king of Judah at the age of eight, after the assassination of his father, King Amon, and reigned for thirty-one years.
- Levi—the third son of Jacob and Leah, and the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Levi (the Levites) and the grandfather of Aaron and Moses.
- Matthew—The popularity of the name is due to Matthew the Apostle, who in Christian theology, is one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and the author of the Gospel of Matthew.
- Michael—Michael was an archangel in Judaism.
- Nathan—Nathan was a prophet in the Hebrew Bible. He announced to David the covenant God was making with him, contrasting David's proposal to build a house for the Ark of the Covenant
- Nathaniel—This is a given name derived from the Greek form of the Hebrew נְתַנְאֵל (Netan'el), meaning "God/El has given".
- Noah—Noah was the tenth and last of the pre-Flood Patriarchs. The story of Noah's Ark is told in the Bible's Genesis flood narrative.
- Samuel—He is venerated as a prophet. Samuel was a key figure in keeping the Israelites' religious heritage and identity alive during Israel's defeat and occupation by the Philistines.
- Seth—Seth was the third son of Adam and Eve and brother of Cain and Abel, who were the only other of their children mentioned by name in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). According to Genesis 4:25, Seth was born after Abel's murder, and Eve believed God had appointed him as a replacement for Abel.
- Zachary—He was a prophet of the two-tribe Kingdom of Judah.
Popular Hebrew Names
Biblical names are great, but what if you want something a little different? There are hundreds of Hebrew names derived from the natural world, and one might be perfect for your son. Or you may want something with a strong religious meaning. In either case, read on for a sampling of popular Hebrew boys' names.
|Names from Nature||Meaning||Religious Names||Meaning|
lion of God
top branch of a tree
son of my people
Elazar or Eliezer
God has helped
gift of God
God will strengthen
island of palms
Gilad or Gilead
hill of testimony
descent (Israel's river)
God is willing
Micah or Micha
Who is like God?
Raphael or Refael
God has healed
behold, a son!
to hear or to be heard
he will sing
friend of God
Jewish Naming Options
Example: The relative you want to name after is your Great-Grandpa Morris (Hebrew first name: Mordechai).
- Option 1: Use Morris as your son's first or middle name in direct tribute. Use Mordechai as his Hebrew name or choose something different like Melech or Micah.
- Option 2: Name your son a popular secular name like Mason or Max, and use Mordechai as his Hebrew name.
- Option 3: Morris means "dark" or "swarthy," so you could choose a secular name like Cole with the same meaning. Then either find a Hebrew name that also means something similar, like Kedar or Pinchas, or stick with Mordechai for religious purposes.
Jewish Naming Customs
It is customary among Ashkenazi Jews to name children only after deceased relatives, not after anyone still living. (This is not a Jewish law. However, Sephardi Jews did not develop this superstition and do name babies after living relatives.) If you want to honor your great-grandpa Morris or Irving, but don't want to use an old-fashioned name, consider using his Hebrew name as your son's Hebrew name for religious purposes, and choose a secular name that is similar, starts with the same letter, or has the same meaning.
A Jewish boy traditionally receives his name at his brit milah, or bris, eight days after he is born. You will need to fill out the paperwork for his birth certificate before that, but you may want to keep his name a secret from all but the closest relatives until his big reveal on the eighth day. That way you can announce it to all your friends and family together and explain why you have chosen the name you did. If your son is named after a deceased relative, the bris is an ideal time to talk about the values or accomplishments your son's namesake showed that you hope will manifest in the new generation.
Do Other Cultures Use Jewish Names?
Yes. Many people from many cultures use Jewish names, even though they are not Jewish. Most Christian names are rooted in Jewish names, because Christianity was originally not separated from Jewish tradition. Some of these names include: Samuel, Johnathan, Matthew, etc. Remember, Jesus's disciples were all Jewish and did not distance themselves from their Jewish identity.
Common Misunderstandings About Jewish Names
- Very few Hebrew surnames existed before Hebraization. Some of these names include: Cohen (priest), Moss (Moses), and Levi (Levite). In fact, in America, names ending with -berg, -stein or -man are often thought of as Jewish, however, these are actually of German origin. Suffixes such as -sky and -vitz are Slavic.
- Jewish names evolved, taking on the influence of cultures that Jews met via the diaspora.
- Just because a Jewish name has evolved to carry German, Austrian, other other western cultural endings does not make that name less Jewish.
- Although Ashkenazi Jews now use European or modern-Hebrew surnames for everyday life, the Hebrew patronymic form is still used in Jewish religious and cultural life.
Where Do Jewish Names Come From?
Jewish surnames are family names that are not pseudonyms. In fact, Jews have some of the largest varieties of surnames among any ethnic group. This is the result of the widespread Jewish diaspora. These names have also changed as a result of cultural assimilation and the recent Hebraization of surnames. In fact, the majority of Jewish surnames used today developed in the past three hundred years.
What Is Patronymics?
Patronymics Definition: A name derived from the name of a father or ancestor, typically by the addition of a prefix or suffix,
In Yiddish or German, “son” would be denoted by “son” or “sohn” or “er.” In Slavic languages, including Polish or Russian, it would be “wich” or “witz.”
- The son of Mendel took the last name Mendelsohn.
- The son of Abraham became Abramson or Avromovitch.
- The son of Menashe became Manishewitz.
- The son of Itzhak became Itskowitz.
- The son of Berl took the name Berliner.
- The son of Kesl took the name Kessler.
What Is Matronymics?
Matronymics Definition: A name derived from the name of a mother or female ancestor.
When the prominence of Jewish women in business rose, some families made last names out of women’s first names.
- Chaiken—son of Chaikeh
- Edelman—husband of Edel
- Gittelman—husband of Gitl
- Perlman—husband of Perl
- Soronsohn—son of Sarah.
What Are Place Names?
One of the most common sources of Jewish last names is the places they lived. Often times, Jews used the town or region where they lived, or where their families came from, as their last name. This is why the Germanic origins of most East European Jews is reflected in their names.
Common Jewish Place Names?
From a hilly place
From Porto, Italy
From Halle, Germany
What Are Occupational Names?
Many of us have surnames passed down to us from ancestors in England. Last names weren’t widely used until after the Norman conquest in 1066, but as the country’s population grew, people found it necessary to be more specific when they were talking about somebody else. Thus arose descriptions like Thomas the Baker, Norman son of Richard, Henry the Whitehead, Elizabeth of the Field, and Joan of York that, ultimately, led to many of our current surnames.
Jewish Occupational Names?
Less Common Jewish Names for Boys
Kolatch, Alfred J. Best Baby Names for Jewish Children. New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 1998.
Sidi, Smadar Shir. The Complete Book of Hebrew Baby Names. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Robert Levine from Brookline, Massachusetts on March 25, 2016:
Interesting, I never knew the superstitious side of that tradition--I'd always assumed it was simply as a memorial to the deceased. And thank you for the Book of Daniel citation.
Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on March 24, 2016:
Michael appears in Ketuvim, in the book of Daniel. Avi can be a nickname, but it is also used as a standalone name. The practice of not naming children for living relatives is a superstition because there is/was a belief that the angel of death could come for the wrong person and take the baby when it was actually the older relative's time. I don't think too many people literally believe that in that these days, but the practice of only naming for already-deceased relatives lives on.
Robert Levine from Brookline, Massachusetts on March 23, 2016:
Is Michael ever actually mentioned in the Hebrew Bible?
Avi is usually an abbreviation for Avraham.
Why do you call the Ashkenazi practice of naming children for deceased relatives a "superstition"?
babynology from New York on July 18, 2013:
I admire jewish baby names. Each name comes with information on any known meaning. If you would like to find out the meaning or origin any of the names, you can simply search over the internet.
Rachel Vega from Massachusetts on August 08, 2012:
Oh, Asher is great, too! :-)
Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on August 08, 2012:
Oh, Judah! I knew I forgot a good one. There are so many wonderful Jewish names that I could have gone on for pages. I didn't even list some of my personal favorites, like Asher. Thanks for reading, clevercat!
Rachel Vega from Massachusetts on August 07, 2012:
Personally, one of my favorite names is Judah (not on the list!) but I love Ari and Benjamin too. And you can really never go wrong with Joshua.
A fun read! Voted up and interesting.
Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on August 03, 2012:
Those are beautiful Hebrew names you chose for your children, DW. I'm glad they grew up comfortable with their secular names, too. When I was born, my parents didn't give me a Hebrew name, so I chose my own as a child, and then insisted on only being called by it for the next three years before going back to my secular name in junior high. (I was a pain in the neck!) For my own kids, we decided to give them dual-purpose names, so they could feel their Jewish and secular identities were integrated. Seems to be working so far . . .
win-winresources from Colorado on August 03, 2012:
Since my wife and I have common secular names we wanted our children to have unique names. But not, a burdon of a name like "sweet butterfly jones" or "Dwezil" or "Moon unit" (thanks Frank Zappa). So we made up their secular names, figuring if they didn't like them they could always use their religious name or a nickname. Big son's religious name is Chaim Mordechai (after a deceased great uncle and great great grandfather) Big daughter is Tiertza Adina, after a great grandmother and great great aunt.
They both managed to survive just fine with their unique secular names (even though they went to Jewish Day School) and actually enjoyed being the only child on the playground to turn around when their name was called.
Today, one a lawyer and the other holds an advanced degree and works at a large university.
I'm a lucky man.