Hidden Inside Names

I love how Purim teaches that our names carry depth and meaning. Take Esther our queen and star. Her very name in Persian means star. In Hebrew, her name means hidden and sure enough she not only hides her Jewish identity, but like a serious secret agent, also her intentions.

Did you remember that she is actually given two names? “He brought up Hadassah, who is also Esther, his uncle’s daughter…” (Megillah Esther, 2:7). The name Hadassah, Hebrew for myrtle, brings to mind the lovely myrtle tree, with smallish star shaped flowers and bluish, purplish berries- giving off a delightful spicy odor. Wikipedia teaches that myrtle is the Mediterranean plant of love, connected with both Aphrodite and Venus- very apropriate, don’t you think? Oh, did I mention that another Greek name for Venus is our stars name- ‘Astara’! Perhaps we can reconstruct Valentine’s Day and reclaim the myrtle as the new rose?

We can also look into uncle Mordechai’s name and discover the sweet smell of myrhh hidden inside Mordechai. In the midrash (Esther Rabbah 2:5) we find, “just as myrhh (‘mor’) is head of the spices, Mordechai is the head in righteousness.” You’ve heard of ‘strong like bull’ or ‘brave like lion’, now we can add, ‘a leader like myrhh’. Names are never merely flat letters pressed into a page.

All of this leads me to my great ‘Aha’. It came fourteen years ago, searching for a name for my new born son. I was shocked into a profoundly fun realization gazing through lists of Hebrew names: Zev, Dov, Talia, Aviva, Ilan, Evan, and Devorah. Have you guessed where I am going with this? Our Hebrew schools and communities are filled with people named Wolf, Bear, Dew Drop, Spring, Tree, Rock and Bee! Isn’t this wild!?

The amazing thing for me is that these names (and many more) are but one facet of a beautiful diamond that is also reflecting Jewish holidays, texts, prayers and ceremonies that deeply connect us with the land. Our ancestors wisely preserved this multifaceted diamond within our tradition, like ancient seeds stored in dry clay jugs, waiting for a generation like ours to recognize the potency of these particular facets.

Thankfully, the time has come when we can proudly proclaim Judaism as an ancient indigenous tradition. We no longer teach that myth, story and ritual are “primitive” and “inferior”. May we all find authentic ways to make these many connections with land and Jewish life self evident to ourselves, our families and our communities.

Please enjoy this small gift of names for fun and inspiration us as we explore and experiment our way into the future. My experience has been that they not only spice up our name games, but they help us share the ‘Aha’ that Judaism really is deeply connected to the land. They help counter the assumption that these ideas were cooked up at some hippie hillel. No, these ideas are as old as Adam, whose very name connects blood and earth (Heb: dom and adamah) inside one being.

Please email me with questions, reflections, new names for the list or just to say hi. All the best, david@maggiddavid.net

PS A wild and crazy thought experiment in honor of Purim. What if one of our yiddin was the first European to Vermont? Instead of French, Yiddish would have won the day. The wonderful state that is just a stones throw north of me would now be called Greenberg- Green Mountain- French for ‘ver(ts)-mont’! Chag Purim Same’ach!!

Earthy Hebrew Names

Compiled by Maggid David Arfa


Abel – Breath Adam-Earth Admon- Red Peony

Alon– Oak tree Alyan- Heights Arnon– Roaring Stream

Aryeh– Lion Ari– Lion Aviv- Spring

Barak– Lightning Beryl– Bear (Yid) Chaim- Life

Devir– Holy Place Dror, Deror– a Bird or Freedom

Efron– A Bird Eshkol– Grape Cluster

Evan– Stone Eyal– Stag

Gal/ Gali– Wave or Mountain Gilad/ Gilead– mntns east of Jordan River

Gur/ Guri– Young Lion Hersch– Deer (Yiddish)

Ilan- Tree Ira- Swift ( Arabic)

Ittamar/ Ismar-Islandof Palm Jonah/ Yonah– Dove

Kaniel– Reed/ Stalk Lavi- Lion Meyer/ Meir– One Who Shines

Miron– A Holy Place Namir– Leopard Naor- Light

Nir/Nirea – Plow/ Plowed Field Nirel/Niriel– G?ds Plowed Field

Nitzan– Bud Ofer- A Young Deer

Oren/Orin/Orrin/Oron– Fir Tree or Cedar Peretz- Burst Forth

Ranaan– Fresh Raviv- Rain or Dew

Rimon- Pomegranite Shimshon/ Samson– Sun

Tal- Dew of light Tivon– Student of Nature

Tsevi/ Tzvi– Deer Vulf/ Velvel/ Wolf/ Wolfe – Wolf (Yiddish)

Yanir- He Will Plow Zamir– Song; Nightingale

Zev/ Ze-ev– Wolf Zerach– Light Rising

Ziv/Zivi- To Shine


Adva– Wave; Ripple Alona– Oak Tree Arava– Willow

Ariella– Lioness of G?D Arna/ Arnit- Cedar Arnona/ Arnonit- Roaring Stream

Aviva– Spring Ayala- Deer; Gazelle Berit– Well

Bluma/ Blume– Flower(Yiddish) Carmel/ Carmela/ Carmelit– Vineyard Chaya– Life

Dafna– Laurel Dalia/ Dalit- Branch

Deborah/ Debra/ Devra/ Devorah– Kind words; Swarm of Bees

Degania– Corn Dova/ Doveva/Dovit– Bear

Efrona- Songbird Elana– Oak Tree Esther– Star (Persian)

Gali/ Galit- Fountain or Spring Ganit– Garden

Gayora- Valley of light Gina/ Ginat-Garden

Giva/ Givona– Hill Gornit- Granary Gurit– Cub

Hadass/ Hadassah– Myrtle Tree Hasida– Pious One; Stork

Herzlia- Deer (Yiddish) Hinda- Deer (Yid) Ilana/ Ilanit- Oak Tree

Irit- Daffodil Jasmine/ Yasmine- Persian Flower

Jonina/ Yonina- Dove Kalanit- Anemone

Knarit/ Kanit– Sonbird Karna, Karnit– Rams Horn

Kelila– Laurel Crown (symbolizes victory) Keren- Horn

Kochava– Star Laila; Leila,Lila– Night

Levana, Livana– Moon, White Levona- Spice, Incense

Limor– My Myrrh Livia, Livya- Crown, Lioness

Luza– Almond Tree Margalit- Pearl Netta, Nteia- A Plant

Nili– A Plant Nirit- Flowering Nitza- Bud

Nurit– Buttercup Odera- Plow Ophra, Ofra- Young Deer

Orna, Ornit-Cedar Penina, Peninit- Pearl or Coral

Peri– Fruit Rachel- Ewe (symbolizing gentleness)

Raisa, Raizel– Rose (Yiddish) Rakefet– Cyclamen

Rimona– Pomegranite Serafina– To Burn, (tree sap?)

Sharon- Biblical Plain where Roses Bloomed

Shoshana, Susan, Susannah– Lily or Rose Sivia, Sivya, Tzvia– Deer

Tal, Talia- Dew Tamar, Tamara– date Palm

Tirza– Cypress Tori– My Turtledove

Varda, Vered- Rose Vida, Vita– Life

Yarkona– Green; Bird in Southern Israel; River in Northern Israel

Yemima- Dove Yona, Yonit– Dove

Ze’eva, Zeva- Wolf Zipporah, Tzipporah– Little Bird

Zivanit- Mayflower Zorah, Zora– Dawn (Arabic)

BAUM NAMES (Yiddish/German -Tree)

Buxbaum– Box tree Feigenbaum- Fig Tree

Applebaum- Apple Tree Birnbaum- Pear Tree Nussbaum– Nut Tree

Tannenbaum- Fir Tree Greenbaum- Green Tree Goldbaum- Gold Tree

Kleinbaum– Little Tree

These names were compiled from:

1. Buxbaum, Yitzhak, A Tu Beshvat Seder. Jewish Spirit Publications, NY, 1998.

2. Diamant, Anita, The New Jewish Baby Book. Jewish Lights Publishing, VT, 1994.

Maggid David Arfa is dedicated to sharing Judaism’s storytelling heritage and ancient environmental wisdom. Quality performances, workshops, and teacher trainings allow participants to explore story images, the natural world, traditional texts, and contemporary life. The goals of these programs include expanding the participant’s religious experience and enriching their spiritual imagination.

CD’s Now Available: The Birth of Love: Tales for the Days of Awe, includes David’s retelling of ancient mythology, Old World Yiddish tales (set in the Berkshire foothills), medieval folktales and more.

NEW CD: ,The Life and Times of Herschel of Ostropol: The Greatest Prankster Who Ever LivedLight hearted folktales and Yiddish stories about Herschel, his wife Ida and life in Ostropol Ukraine.

For more information, please contact:

Maggid David Arfa, Shelburne Falls, MA

david@maggiddavid.net: www.maggiddavid.net

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