In the early days of the modern State of Israel, ardent Zionists preferred names that were not traditionally used in the European countries they had come from. But they still wanted names that reflected the spirit of the Jewish state, so they chose obscure biblical ones, or made up new ones from Hebrew words. While the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) have stuck with Biblical or traditional Hebrew names like Tova (good), Hayim (life), or Yaakov (Jacob), secular and more modern Orthodox Israelis have branched out.
Israelis have continued their tradition of choosing obscure biblical names, or making up new names based on Hebrew words. Israelis always prefer to call their children something meaningful.
Here are a few trends from recent years, along with examples from both genders.
- Hebrew names that are transferable to English or other languages. Israelis often spend extended periods abroad, and they don’t non-Israelis to struggle with pronunciation. Examples include Boys: Liam (a nation for me), and Ron (joy), Unisex: Tom (innocence), Girls: Li (for me)
- Nature. Names like Ilan (tree) and Nurit (buttercup) were once popular but have been replaced with names like Boys: Agam (lake), Unisex: Maayan (spring), Keshet (rainbow), Gal (wave).
- One-syllable. Girls: Mai (May), Bar (wilderness), Noy (beauty) Boys: Ben (son), Dor (generation).
- Unisex. Examples: Hadar (glory), Rotem (bush), Tal (dew), Daniel, Nitzan (bud), Shai (gift),
- Ending in the long I sound: These are mostly for boys: Itay, Ilai, Nitai, Shai.
- Suffix or prefix Li, meaning mine. Examples: Girls: Lihi (she is mine), Lital (dew is mine), Linoi (beauty is mine), Boys: Lichai (alive for me), Lidor (a generation for me).
There are some names that have never gone out of style: Examples: Girls: Aviyah, Noa (pleasant, for a girl, also biblical but not the same as Noah of the flood), Yael (mountain goat), Tamar (date), Michal, Rachel (lamb), Boys: Daniel (God is my judge), Yair (He will light), Ziv (light), Elad (God is forever), Alon (tree). Unisex: Adi (jewel)
Other trends to keep in mind when choosing: Many baby names are extremely popular in one sector while unheard of in others. Some that will label a child as coming from religious Zionist sectors include for boys, Yedidyah (friend of God), Amichai (my nation lives) and for girls, Moriah (God will teach), Ayelet (gazelle),
Secular Israels call their children by single name, while religious Jewish parents tend to give two. It’s common for the middle name to be an old-fashioned one belonging to a deceased relative. Parents from North African background may call their children after living grandparents.
Parents who follow Jewish tradition closely don’t announce the name until the baby has been officially named. Girls get theirs in the synagogue, while boys are announced at the bris (circumcision ceremony).