Our Different Names

Yael Eckstein  |  December 8, 2021

Yael with son Liam

But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. And Israel said, “I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.” — Genesis 45:27-28

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Vayigash, which means “and he approached,” from Genesis 44:18–47:27.

When my husband Amichai and I chose the names for each of our four children, we decided to give each one two names. One was taken from modern Hebrew, to reflect the new chapter in Jewish history that they were born into. And one was more traditional and came from a family member who came before them. 

For example, when our second child was born, we named him Liam Shlomo. Shlomo is Hebrew for Solomon, a biblical name. Liam is a modern name which is very meaningful to me because this is my first son who was born in Israel and who will serve in the Israeli army as all Israelis are required to do when they turn 18.

We took his name from Isaiah 2:4, “Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” If you take the first letter of each of the last four words of this verse, lo yilmedu od milchama — “nor will they train for war anymore,” it spells out Liam. And so, Liam is our prayer for peace.

Our Different Names

But the truth is that we all have different names. We have the name our parents give us when we’re born. And then we have the ones given to us as we grow and change. Sometimes we identify more with our childhood names. At other times we feel more like the names we have acquired along the way.

In this week’s Torah portion, we see Jacob’s two names — Jacob and Israel — used to express his emotional state at a critical moment in his life.

When Jacob’s sons returned from Egypt and told him that his beloved son Joseph was still alive, the Bible tells us that “the spirit of their father Jacob revived.” The very next words in the Bible are, “And Israel said, ‘I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive.’”

The sudden switch came from calling him Jacob, a name that he received because he followed Esau out of the womb, to Israel, a name of spiritual power that he acquired when he triumphed over the angel who attacked him. With this sudden transition, the Bible tells us that Jacob was inspired and strengthened by the news about Joseph. He had become Israel again.

Your Turn:

What names do you have? Are there times when you want to be called by a different name? Choose the one that lifts you up and identify with it today.

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