Choosing a Hebrew Name

As with a literal newborn, the convert as a spiritual newborn selects a Hebrew name and adopts Abraham and Sarah as spiritual parents.

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While the convert's [given] name is the convert's own choice, Judaism requires, in all formal documents, legal proceedings, and religious functions such as being called to the Torah, an identification of parentage.

As the convert is technically considered to be a newborn child, reference to the parent must be of the spiritual parentage adopted by entering into the Covenant of Abraham. There must be a formal designation of the conversion that is plainly evident. That is why the convert is called "ben Avraham Avinu," "son of our Father, Abraham," or "bat Sarah Imenu," "daughter of our Mother, Sarah." In a Jewish marriage contract or divorce, it is not sufficient to write "child of Abraham," but of "Abraham, our Father," and "Sarah, our Mother," in order to avoid any possible duplicity that might lead some to believe that the father was actually Jewish and the person's name simply Abraham. Sometimes the word ha'ger, "the convert," is appended to the name.

This naming pattern was required only of the first generation of converts. All subsequent generations refer to their own father's Jewish name, without the convert appellation. The convert title appended to the name should be borne as a badge of spiritual courage and accomplished idealism. But it should be noted that this title is required only on formal occasions and documents. It need not obtain in personal, familial, and social life.

The time of the naming ceremony was held by some to be the same as for a Jewish-born male--at the circumcision rite. However, as the convert is at this point still not fully converted--not having completed the immersion--and therefore not yet a Jew, the naming ceremony should preferably be delayed until immediately after the immersion. It is generally recited at that time for both male and female converts.

The prayer recited is as follows (for males substitute the correct pronoun):

"Our God and God of our Fathers:

Sustain this woman in the Almighty's Torah and in His commandments and may her name in Israel be _____________, the daughter of Abraham, our Father. May she rejoice in the Torah, and exult in the commandments. Give thanks to God, for He is good and His kindness is to all eternity.

May ____________, the daughter of Abraham, our Father, grow to become great. So may she enter the Almighty's Torah, with His commandments and good deeds."

At the conclusion of the entire ceremony, some versions add this prayer:

"Our God and God of our Fathers:

Enable this convert to succeed. Spread Your kindness over her. As You influenced her to find shelter under Your wings and to join Your people, so may You implant love and awe for You in her heart. Open her heart to Your teachings.

Lead her in the way of Your mitzvot [commandments]. May she merit to conduct herself in accordance with Your own attributes and may she always win favor in Your eyes."

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Rabbi Maurice Lamm

Maurice Lamm is the author of many books, including The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning. He is the president of the National Institute for Jewish Hospice, and Professor at Yeshiva University's Rabbinical Seminary in New York, where he holds the chair in Professional Rabbinics. For years he served as rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation, Beverly Hills, CA.