The Power of Names

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“And the man gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found a help mate for him.”
Giving a name is a very meaningful act. According to Jewish tradition the essence of every creature is found in its name. And Jewish tradition believes that names are given with divine intuition. Every Hebrew letter has meaning, potential and capacity to create a reality. When a person is named, he is permeated with the qualities of the letters that compose his or her name.
Thus, in Judaism, names are very significant. Men are called on by their full name and father’s name to say a blessing over the Torah Scrolls. If someone is ill, the name Chaim or Chaya (“life”) is added as a second name.
The first people to have their names changed were Abraham and Sarah.
Abraham was ninety nine years old and Sarah was ninety when God told him that they would have offspring. The verses in Genesis 17 read:
“Neither shall your name any more be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for the father of a multitude of nations have I made you.” The Hebrew word for father “Av” is found in the first two letters of his name. The world “multitude” or “hamon” become part of his name with the added letter. God continues to change Sarah’s name as well:
“And God said unto Abraham: ‘As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son of her; yes, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be of her.'”
Sarai is a name which refers to royalty. But the ending “ai” is in the possessive form and gives a message of personal royalty. It was something that related to her and Abram alone. Her new name “Sarah” made her a universal personality. Now they were ready to have children.
At a fleeting glance, it seems strange that a person needs a new name to enter a new stage in life. Yet, realizing that the essence of a person is their name, it becomes clear that this is, in fact, a prerequisite for entering a new stage in which a clear change needs to take place.

We see in scriptures that the opposite is true as well. A person’s deeds impact his name. As it says in Ecclesiastes 7 “A [good] name is better than precious oil…” A person creates a reputation, and that’s what impacts his name. The name remains a constant, but the person himself creates the context of his name.
A name, according to Judaism, is a matter of destiny and hard work. Perhaps Noah is a prime example. Noah’s name in Hebrew means comfort and solace. In Genesis 5 we learn:
And Lamech lived a hundred eighty and two years, and begot a son. And he called his name Noah, saying: ‘This [son] shall comfort us in our work and in the toil of our hands, which cometh from the ground which the LORD hath cursed.’
It seems that Noah earned his name. He was a righteous and good person. “These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was in his generations a man righteous and whole-hearted; Noah walked with God.” Jewish sages discuss the fact that no descendants are actually mentioned here. They explain that Noah’s real descendants were his good and righteous deeds. Ultimately, that is what outlives a person and makes a true impact on the world.
Yes Noah was given a worthy and admirable name, and his work and good deeds gave the name context and made it a name that the world will never forget.

Published: May 7, 2015
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