What's in a Name
by Jo Diamond
What’s in a name?
Can I have a show of hands of how many here in this room have a Hebrew name?
Most if not all of you it seems. Think about your name for a moment..I’m sure you can connect to it..whether it be after a grand or great grand parent, be it a biblical name with power and meaning! It feels nice right? To have that identity and connection in a Hebrew/Jewish in that you can instantly associate yourself with something or someone of value and meaningfulness.
Well believe it or not until November 2017, I did not and could not share in such a feeling or emotions..I wasn’t sure I had a Hebrew name
You may think this strange... what about when I got married?... well I’ll come back to this, but just as a brief overview and way of background, I was not born and raised into a religious family in terms of practice and customs as my mum, brought up solely by her mother lost her mother when she, my mum, was only 21 and so she herself was never really guided down the religious path and yes, we went to shul on high holy days and celebrated most festivals and my mum would always light candles on a Friday night, but it went as far as that. When I was married it was really kind of like plucking a name out of thin air!! I’ll address this later...
So I’ve kind of set the scene for you ...
But let’s go back in time... “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”....who said that?????
Well it’s is a popular reference to William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, and is often used to imply that the names of things and people therefore do not affect what and who they really are...
If a rose is not called a rose it would still smell good ...
Shakespeare’s reference is somewhat contrary to that of the Jewish practice and importance of being given a Hebrew name at birth.
There is a Hebrew folk saying, recorded in the Bible, to indicate that a person’s name can illustrate his or her character: kishmo ken hu–“Like his name, so is he”. If, for example, a woman’s name is Rinnah, meaning “song” (or “joy”), and she is a musical person, one might use this saying to indicate how appropriate her birth name is in retrospect, looking back on her life from the present.
Perhaps it can be suggested therefore that a name can be seen to predict at birth what that person’s character will subsequently turn out to be. But Really? Well I wish I had been named Zahava then, which means “gold” in Hebrew–so perhaps I may have been more organic, flawless and beautiful!!!! If only!!!!!
I married a diamond though...!!!!
Some may view that the name given to a child is considered to be a matter of great importance, having considerable influence on the development of that child’s character.
So If that’s the case then where does that leave me? If I had received a Hebrew name or was named after someone when I was born, would that have made me into a person of different character and nature, having different desires as opposed to who I am now? I can’t dwell but I don’t think I turned out too bad in the absence of a Hebrew name!
What I have learnt is that a name can be given to you at any one point and you can embrace it and this is the experience I had in November 2017
As some of you may be aware, November 2017 saw a small group of members of Woodside Park Synagogue participate in the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, and we had the pleasure to be accompanied and guided by our very own gorgeous Gila.
During that trip, on one of our very busy tour days, we headed to Erez Bereshit, and in the middle of the desert where over 200 women gathered, and out of them only 4 women, me being one of them, did not have a Hebrew name but were given the opportunity to have a hebrew given to us.
I’ve never had a sense of having a Hebrew name and I did in fact I infirm Gila of this before we went on the trip, but what was to come was totally unexpected but yet magical and memorable.
I really had no idea what to call myself. Do I base it on something phonetically similar to my own name, or do I choose my passions in life and find a name to represent that or assess my character and try to find a name that would represent me in that way. It was all very confusing however it was the moment when we were asked to turn speak to a women among our tour group and discuss your Jewish Hebrew name. I met a wonderful lady called Nomi Kremer, the Argentinian city leader, and we engaged in honest open discussion whereby she spoke so passionately about her wonderful Hebrew name and why it was given to her and how it was derived and then she turned to me to ask me about mine...and then it hit me... I had a sense of emptiness and I was at a loss. I said I don’t think I have one to be honest. But “what about when you got married” she asked, in my response, which I later shared with the rest of the women, told her that when I was planning to get married I asked my mum but she wasn’t so sure she said go and ask your dad. My dad wasn’t so sure so he said just call yourself whatever you want but you’re probably something like Hannah bit like Joanna. I left it at that. I didn’t think anything of it at that time however, thinking about it back in November last year and having a discussion with Nomi I actually felt like I wanted a name that was mine...just for me. We spoke about this issue and how it made me feel unconnected to my family and to my Jewish heritage, we laughed and shed a few tears and I then asked her what name would she give to some one like me or is a little like my own name, and she instantly said the name Yona, “you’re like a Dove, a beautiful bird, pure and honest, a lovely person and this is the name I think would be suited to you”.
I loved it and in that moment I just knew that this new name Yona was meant to be for me...the place, the moment, the chance meeting of this wonderful women, being on a learning trip with members of our community and our rebbetzin, I just knew this had to be... And so my blessing...something I know I had never received before...and now of an age to actually appreciate...was ”May you fly and spread your wings like a dove, and find the strength and freedom to lead a happy fruitful long and prosperous life, guiding others that may follow you in your flight and may you always be successful on your path and journey through life”
It was truly a wonderful and quite emotional experience and to share it with Debbie, Sam, Helen and Gila and a community of new found ‘sisters’/ friends among Mill Hill and Elstree & Borehamwood Synagogues is something that will stick with me forever and always.
I am now so grateful for the fact that I have been given the opportunity to have a Hebrew name that has meaning, a connection to a memory and group of people, and am truly blessed to have now been able to eliminate that feeling of emptiness and disconnection that I felt prior to the trip in circumstances when asked for my Jewish name or who am I named after.
Well I love the name Yona... and whilst I may not have been given this name from birth I really do feel that it does represent me in many ways as the dove is seen to be a spirit messenger, maternal symbol and liaison...characteristics I’d like to think I possess.
So I might well be a dove, and in the words of Rhianna the pop star... I’ll always “shine bright like diamond...shine bright like a diamond”...