What's In A Name? Jewish Heritage and Ancestry
Book Units
0 Ratings
Add to Favorite  

What's In A Name? Jewish Heritage and Ancestry

Tags: Book based 

Topic(s) Addressed:

Students will read several children’s books about the significance of people’s names and then study their own English and Hebrew names in order to connect with and better understand their own Jewish heritage.

Enduring Understandings:

Students will learn the significance and meaning behind their names, including: English names, Hebrew names, middle names, and surnames. They will understand why their names were chosen and learn about their families’ histories.

Lesson Objectives:

  • making connections to literature (text-to-self, text-to-world) 
  • developing research/interview skills 
  • categorizing and synthesizing information 
  • deepening understanding and appreciation of student’s heritage and ancestry

Be Inspired:The ideas included are offered as starting points as you and your students explore, discover and live the lessons. Be sure to elicit and encourage student and parent participation, consistently reinforcing the value being addressed. Allow lessons to authentically develop and change based on engagement and interests.

Lesson Plan Components

For the educatorJewish Thought, Text, and Traditionsmore

Jewish Text that inspired this lesson:

Rabbi Shimon said, “There are three crowns, the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship. But the crown of a good name is more important than all of them.” Pirkei Avot 4:13

For more information about this value, please visit The Importance Of A Good Name Category Overview page

Articles that can provide additional information about names and naming in Jewish tradition:
Jewish Names And Their Meanings
"What's In A Jewish Name?" article from MyJewishLearning.com
"What to Expect at a Baby Naming Ceremony" from Union for Reform Judaism

Jewish every dayIncorporate Jewish Valuesmore

Materials and resourcesmore

Sharing The Storymore

Introducing The story

Involve students in a discussion of the significance of names in general and andl elicit students’ prior knowledge of the meanings of their own names. As appropriate, discuss the Judaic value of The Importance of a Good Name

Read aloud one or more of the following books: The First Gift by A.S. Gadot, Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel and discuss how the characters’ names impact their lives and what significance their names carry.

Reading The Story

Students will complete a name chart (access template here) and explore the significance of their names.

Students will interview parents/family members to learn why their name were chosen as well as the meaning/history of the family surname and their Hebrew name.

Where applicable: students will research significant Jewish figures who share their names (ex: David, Esther, Abraham, etc.). Students may also look up the definitions of their Hebrew names and make connections with their own character traits/attributes.

After The Story

Using the information they learned about their s, each student will create one of the following to explain the significance of their names:

  • Acrostic poem
  • “I Am” poem
  • Essay (# of paragraphs or sentences to be determined by grade level) explaining the significance of their names. 
*Depending on the grade level/ability, the chapter “My Name” from The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros may also be used as a mentor text.


Explore, Discover, and More Extension and Reinforcement Activitiesmore

Math: Have students categorize class names based on various criteria: i.e. names that are biblical, names chosen because of family members, names chosen simply because parents liked them, etc.

Art: Students could do name-based artwork and incorporate the meanings and significance they learned in their research.

Music Connectionsmore

Evidence of Learningmore

Students will be expected to present and discuss their final pieces and explain the history and significance of their names, focusing on their connections to their heritage and ancestry.


literature connectionsmore

TitleAuthorIllustratorBook Summary
Chrysanthemum Kevin HenkesKevin HenkesShe was a perfect baby, and she had a perfect name, Chrysanthemum. When she was old enough to appreciate it, Chrysanthemum loved her name. And then she started school. Students made fun of her name and Chrysanthemum wilted. Life at school didn’t improve. In fact, it got worse. But when the students were introduced to their music teacher, Mrs. Delphinium Twinkle, things changed and Chrysanthemum blossomed.
The First Gift* A.S. GadotMarie LafranceA Jewish boy tells about the first gift he ever got—his name.
Wilfrid Gordon Mcdonald Partridge Mem Fox Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge is a small boy who has a big name - and that's why he likes Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper, because she has too. So when he finds Miss Nancy has lost her memory, Wilfrid determines to discover what memories are so he can find it for her. This is a perennial classic, perfect for reading aloud.
* PJ library Books
Lesson Contributors

Miriam Emano, Beth Emet