Creating New Names for Ourselves

Yael Eckstein  |  September 30, 2021

Woman in IFCJ sweatshirt hugging an elderly Jewish woman while they're sitting next to each other.

Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. — Genesis 3:20

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy, and this week we begin again with the Torahportion Bereshit, which means “in the beginning,” from Genesis 1:1—6:8.

My grandfather, Rabbi Shimon Eckstein, served as the Chief Rabbi of Canada’s capital city. He was a distinguished man, a noted psychologist, a spiritual leader, and a respected teacher. However, the title that my grandfather was most proud of was the nickname given to him by his longtime congregants. They called him “the hugger rabbi.”

This name reflected my grandfather’s warmth, empathy, and his penchant for embracing all types of people — both figuratively and literally — in a heartfelt hug. He actually gave out “hug coupons” that were redeemable for one free hug!

My grandfather was given the name Shimon by his parents, but “the hugger rabbi” was a name that he earned through the way he influenced others, the role he played in other peoples’ lives.

Creating New Names for Ourselves

The first person in the Bible to have two names is mentioned in this week’s Torah portion. Eve, the very first woman, was first called Ishah by Adam: “she shall be called ‘woman’ [Ishah], for she was taken out of man [Ish] (Genesis 2:23). Later, after the sin of eating from the tree and God’s decrees of punishment, Adam called her by a new name: “Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living” (3:20).

Her first name was a description of where she came from. Her second name described who she would become in the future, and her relationship to her children and to all humanity.

Like both Eve and my grandfather, the hugger rabbi, we are all given names at birth. These names are given by our parents, the people who we came from. But these are not our only names. As we grow in our lives, we create new names for ourselves. These are the names that speak to our impact on others and on the world around us.

Both names are equally who we are. We are the products of our parents, and we carry that relationship in the names they gave us. At the same time, we are named for the roles that we play in the lives of our families, our communities, and the world.

What is your name? What name do you want to create for yourself?

Your Turn:

Listen to my podcast, from Nourish Your Biblical Roots, What Is Your Name?, for more on this topic.