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Jewish name changing throughout the ages

Mon, December 17, 8:30 to 10:00am, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Harborview 1 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


From biblical and rabbinic literature to contemporary Jewish life, name changing has been a frequent theme. When parents decide on a name for their child, they are often expressing aspects of their perceived history, their current affiliations, and their hopes for the child’s future. When children grow up, they sometimes feel a sense of onomastic dissonance. In some cases, their personal or family name does not match how they see themselves in relation to Jews and the broader society – or how they want others to see them. Other times, historical events and migration patterns spark name changes – either due to official requirements or based on individual desires. Finally, some individuals take on nicknames in addition to their given names – in their everyday lives, in online discourse, or in the realms of entertainment and publishing. This panel analyzes such name changes comparatively.

Ginensky offers background on biblical name changes and rabbinic discourse about name changing, and then she examines name changes in 19th- and 20th-century European and American Jewish fiction in Yiddish and English. Perelmutter explains the history of Russian Jews’ onomastic russification and subsequent Judaization, and then she analyzes discourse about names in an online chat group among Russian immigrants to Israel. Aslanov investigates rabbis using a nickname based on a title of one of their works, offering historical explanations for this widespread late medieval to modern phenomenon. Fermaglich discusses all three papers based on her historical research on American Jewish name changing. The panel brings together scholars in literature, Slavic studies, linguistics, and history to investigate an important aspect of the Jewish past and present. Their analysis and the ensuing conversation will be of interest to many fields within Jewish studies, onomastics, and beyond.

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