Importance of A Good Name
(Importance of A) Good Name

In Judaism, like in many traditions and customs, names tell us a little bit about who we are as individuals. In medieval Europe, Jews began to take on surnames that connected to the name of their fathers - for example, Jacob, son of Isaac, transformed into Jacob Isaacson (you might recognize “son of” in many languages as a popular ways that names end or begin; ‘off’ in Russian, ‘a’ in Romanian and ‘vitz’ in German, for example). Our surnames, then, can directly link us to our families.
Or, many of our names tell us something about our occupation - for example, the jewelers of the community would also be known as the Golds, Diamonds, or Silvers, or the shoemakers would be known as the Shusters. As a whole, our names reveal our character, and our names are a shem tov, a good name, when we live an ethical and moral life.

As such, first names or Hebrew names often are in memory of a loved ones. By being named after someone, we, as namesakes hope to live a life full of dignity and honor as they did.
When we strive to be a shem tov, we strive to embody values such as kavod (honor and respect) and chesed (kindness). As a shem tov, we set high standards for ourselves on how we act and behave towards others. It is something we work for, as Hillel notes in Avot 2:7: “If you have acquired a good name, you had to do it yourself.” In addition, Judaism would consider that true wealth is the character that we have worked towards having, as it is written in Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is more desirable than great wealth, more even that silver or gold.”

Questions for Reflection

  1. How does your name define you as a person? 
  2. Where does your name come from, and does it help shape who you are? 
  3. What are three things you can do that demonstrates how you strive to be a shem tov? 
  4. How can you incorporate the concept of shem tov in your classroom?

Our name represents our reputation, which is what people know and feel about us. We should build a good one through kind and thoughtful living.