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Divrei Torah

Is the name Adam a suitable one to give to my child?


Adam’s first task on this world was to give names to all the species yet you wonder whether Adam is a suitable name for a Jewish child.  Before I answer your specific question, I would like to give you guidelines that might help you in your choice of a name and also possibly reconsider giving the name “Adam”.


The Sages say that a Hebrew name is a statement of one’s essence, one’s character one’s path in life and of one’s special qualities. At the beginning of life we give a name, and at the end of life a “good name” is all we take with us. (Talmud – Brachot 7b). The Hebrew word for soul is “Neshama”, spelled with four Hebrew letters nun, shin, mem, and hei.  The Hebrew word for name is shem, spelled shin, mem.  If one analyzes these two words, one can see that the Hebrew word for name, shem, is actually contained within the Hebrew word for soul. This indicates the strong connection of the soul i.e. one’s essence and one’s name.


A person’s Hebrew name is not merely a convenient collection of letters but can also actually reveal the individual’s characteristics. The Midrash (Genesis Raba 17:4) says that when the first man, Adam, was naming the animals, he “looked into the essence of every creature and named it accordingly.”  For example, the donkey, an animal viewed as carrying heavy physical burdens is named chamor  In Hebrew, chamor (donkey) has the same root as chomer, meaning materials, i.e. suggesting the heavy objects that it carries. (Contrast this with English, where the word “donkey” does not reveal anything pertaining to the nature of a donkey!) The same idea applies to names of people. For example, Leah named her fourth son Judah (in Hebrew, Yehudah). This comes from the same root as the word “thanks.” The letters can also be rearranged to spell out the holy Name of God. The significance is that Leah wanted to particularly express her “thanks to God.” (Genesis 29:35) Also, when a person is seriously ill, he is often given an additional name such as Chaim, meaning “life”, or Rafael meaning “God heals” in order to change his luck and future – “mazal“.   


The Arizal (Sha’ar HaGilgulim 24b) writes that even the numerical value of a name can indicate the individual’s character and destiny. For example, the numerical value of the name Elisheva is equal to the numerical value of yemei simcha, meaning “days of joy”.


Let us now consider your specific question regarding the name Adam.


Rabbi Moses ben Joseph di Trani (the Elder) (Hebrew: משה מטראני‎) called מבי”ט or Mabit; (born at Salonika 1505; died in Jerusalem 1585) and Rabbi of Zefat specifically states that one should not name a Jewish child a name of a person who lived before our forefather, Abraham, Avrohom Avinu.  He states that one should not give the name of Adam, Noach, Shem or Ever.  Though Mabit did not quote his sources, nevertheless it is certain that he based his instructions on known sources . Many of the great Poskim, Deciders, expressed surprise at the Mabit’s position as there many names used from before Abraham’s life time such as Yefet. Noach Chava Chanoch, etc.  There were thus varying customs in this matter and probably different communities behaved in different ways.


Based on the above what should we advise in this matter? If you come from a family or community where it is not customary to give names of people who lived before Avraham you should continue with this custom. However, if you are not aware of any custom in this matter, then you should consider why you want to give this particular name.  If the reason is because Adam was a great Biblical personality or because he was the first man, then you should be aware of the position of the Mabit.   If, however, you chose Adam because Adam was the name of your grandfather or teacher, then one cannot object. Similarly, do not call your son Noach if your reason is that he was the greatest personality in the Tanach .However, if you wish to call him Noach because Noach was the name of your grandfather or teacher or because he was born during the week when Noach was read, then one cannot object .Another example might be that the child is so beautiful that you think it appropriate to call him Yefet. This is acceptable, but not if you wish to call him Yefet because he was a Biblical personality. 

It is up to you to decide why you wish to give the name Adam and to act according to the guidelines given above. Choose a name that you feel will have a positive effect on your son’s personality, since every time it is used the person is reminded of its  meaning.



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