Did you know?
By Rabbi Fabian Werbin
It is known that some of the characters of the Tanach (Bible) had a modification in their names. We know for example that G-d said to Abram that he will be called Abraham. The same happened to Sarai, her name was changed to Sarah.
Other well known examples are Jacob to Israel, Ben Oni to Benjamin, Joseph to Tzafnat Paneach, and Hosea to Joshua.
We have more examples that may not be familiar to us like Gideon, who was called Jerubbaal or Jeruboshet; Zedekiah the king of Judah was called originally Mattanyahu; and Jehoiakim another king of Judah was called Eliakim when he was born.
Daniel was called Belteshazzar and his friends Hannaniah, Mishael, and Azariah were named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
In our tradition there’s a not very well known custom related to name changes.
A person who was dangerously sick would change his name in the hope that the Angel of Death, who summons persons by name, would be baffled thereby. This custom, known as Shinui hashem, is given in the Talmud Rosh Hashanah 17 A. One of the names thus adopted was the appropriate one of Chayyim for male and Cahya for women since both represent life.
When several children have died in a family, G-d forbid, the next that is born has no name given to it, but is referred to as “Alter” (Yiddish: אלתר, literally “old”), or Alterke. The rationale is that the Angel of Death, not knowing the name of the child, will not be able to seize it. When such a child attains the marriageable age, a new name, generally that of one of the Patriarchs, is given to it.