Why I Went Back To My Given Name

“The naming of a Jewish child is a most profound spiritual moment. The Sages say that naming a baby is a statement of her character, her specialness, and her path in life. For at the beginning of life we give a name, and at the end of life a “good name” is all we take with us”. For at 120, when we meet our Creator, we will be called by our Jewish name.  (see Aish.com article and Talmud – Brachot 7b; Arizal – Sha’ar HaGilgulim 24b)

On the Sabbath after I was born, my father of blessed memory (who died five and a half months later), went to synagogue to give me my name. My Jewish name.  I was named after my paternal great-grandmother Dora,  whose Jewish name was Chaya Devora.  I didn’t learn my Jewish name until right before I got married.  Until then, I was under the assumption that my Hebrew name was Davida (the feminine version of David, the name I would have been given had I been a boy).  When I was about to get married I asked my Grandma Charlotte (of blessed memory) how I could find out what my REAL Jewish name was. I knew deep down inside that Davida was not it.  She sent me to my Great Aunt Shirley, may she live and be well for the verdict.  Without missing a beat, Aunt Shirley said, you are named after Grandma Dora, your name is Chaya Devora. What’s the question?  So my Ketubah (the official Jewish  wedding contract) bears my real name, Chaya Devora.

When we started having children, we decided to give our children only Jewish names, So our kids do not have American names.  Their name is their name.  I must admit I have been jealous of all of them. I didn’t know my name until I was 24. Their name was the only one they would ever need to know.

Last fall my friend Judy called me and told me that she gave herself a 60th birthday present and could I please call her Yehudit from now on. There was my jealousy again.  Six months later my Aunt Marilyn told me she was going to start going by her given name, Miriam.  So nice for her. Humph.   (By the way, we ARE allowed to be jealous if it is for spiritual growth, so I basked in my jealousy!)

They say that the dark is always before the dawn.  There were areas of my life that were dark for me for a few years. The problem when you are in the dark, is you forget that one day there will be light again.  Thank G-d, the light finally came. This last year has been an incredibly transformative year for me. I emerged a better woman and a better coach as a result.  Think of a caterpillar emerging as a beautiful butterfly. That was me.

This summer I had the opportunity to live my true purpose, speaking all over New Jersey to women, usually about recovery from eating disorders through personal development.  Many (but not all) of the women I encountered had only Jewish names. I mentioned to one woman that I would LOVE to go by my Jewish name, and while I love it,  “Chaya Devora”  is such a long name and just didn’t feel like it could work both personally and professionally.

“How about Devora?” she said.
“No,” I said. “I am not just a Devora.”
“How about Chaya?”  she tried.
“I am TOTALLY a Chaya!” I responded.

She then told me a story about a woman she knew who always went by her English name, Sheryl.  She once got into a car accident and when the paramedics asked her what her name was, when she said “Sheryl” she felt like she really should have answered “Shaindel” which was her Jewish name given to her at birth.  After the car accident, she started going by Shaindel.  I can’t say I was jealous of her car accident, but of her going by her name.

I went to that engagement “Dana.”  I left that engagement, “Chaya.”  I could feel it in my bones. It was a done deal.

I spoke to my husband about it that night and told him that it was fine with me that he call me whatever name felt most comfortable to him., but that this was something that I needed to do.  Same with my family members.  Some still call me Dana, some Chaya. Up to them. My father-in-law came over to me the first week and gave me a kiss on my head and said, “Shabbat Shalom, Chaya.  What’s with that anyway?”  It was very sweet and very him.

The transition has been unexpectedly easy and fast.  “Chaya” started rolling off my tongue. I changed my facebook name, first to Dana Chaya and then to Chaya Dana. Same with my business cards.  I thought it might be awkward, but it has been the opposite.

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving alone and I had a HUGE insight that blew me away.  “Dana” comes from the Hebrew root “judge.”  “Chaya” means  “LIFE!”  My darkness was filled with much judgement.  Judgemental of others and even worse, of myself: Dana.    I emerged, however,  free and  full of life: Chaya!

I then realized that it wasn’t in my “bones” that it felt right. It was in my SOUL.

PS: While the name Dana has the meaning “judge” it is important to note that Devora was a Judge and a prophet. She knew how to judge from a direct connection to God. THAT is the kind of judgement that is worth emulating. So it makes sense that my Jewish name is Chaya Devora.  A perfect balance!

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