If I had to make up a typical Jewish American couple, I’d call them Bryan and Michelle. Or Julie. Or Lauren/Lori or some such form thereof. But if I had to think of your typical Orthodox couple, I’d call them Miriam and Moishy. Or Yaakov and Chanie.
From Mary to Lisa to Michelle and Jennifer, girls’ names in America have gone through their trends. What about Orthodox girls?
When I was a kid going to the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland in the 80’s, there were 20 girls in my class. Three of them were named Estie – which is also my sister’s name. I have two sisters-in-law named Rivky. Chanies are everywhere.
As far as boys’ names, we seem to have tapped into the trends. Our son Moshe had a half-dozen boys with some form of the same name, and our son Avromi had about the same number with some form of his name (Avi included).
In the Modern Orthodox community, names are much more creative, such as Shai, Adir, and Tzahalah. But in the more black-hat world, the same old names are often chosen after grandparents and such. Yiddish names do seem to be going out of vogue, so grandparents’ names such as Baila, Faiga, and Zissel are becoming less common aside from the Chassidic and yeshivish (black-hat Haredi) communities. Parents might name their children these Yiddish names to honor loved ones, but, if they feel uncomfortable with them, will add another, more palatable name (sometimes the Hebrew form) and use that as the child’s main name. Some Yiddish names are considered even more old-fashioned and unpleasant than others (not listing them here for obvious reasons, haha) and if a grandparent carried that name, the parents might use a similar name or name with a similar meaning so as not to saddle their child – or themselves – with a social stigma.
Some kids love having common names, and others love having cool and interesting names. Either way, it seems to me that Orthodox trends in names change and move slower than in America in general. Then you also have Orthodox names that are cool in America (Ilana) but nerdy in Israel. Who knew? There are no studies that I know of, but I’d love to get some informal data here.
After crowdsourcing on Facebook I got some really interesting responses. Here’s one:
I was named after my mothers grandmother whose name was Hinda Necha. However, my mom couldn’t stomach the Yiddish version and we were living in Israel so I got Ayelet. Years later, I was in kindergarten in America and I hated my Israeli name. I asked my mom why she wouldn’t name me something “normal” like Gitty or Hindi! Growing up it was Esti and Leah and Chaya and Chani. Now it’s Ahuva and Aliza and Ariella and Yael and Meira and Tehila and Adina and Avigail and Leora. Some names that were nerdy in my day are cool now like Shayna and Kayla. Boys names tend to be pretty traditional still with lots of Dovid and Yosef and Aharon and Aryeh and Yaakov. But there’s also your Yonatan and Netanel and Ariel and Azriel.
What were the most common Orthodox names you knew of growing up? Which decade? What about now?