It is not a coincidence that cultures around the world share a belief in the power of given names. In Judaism, it is believed that parents are granted a flash of ruach hakodesh, Divine spirit, when choosing a name for their child.
If names are so important, why do some people change theirs? The most common reason that people change their names is to add blessing, most often in times of challenge. When someone faces a life-threatening illness, they may be advised to add an additional name. Traditionally, the new name reflects blessing for healing such as the masculine Refael (God has healed) or Chaim (life) or the feminine Chaya (Giver of life). This change is usually done with the consultation and guidance of a rabbi.
The concept of changing a name in order to alter one’s fate is noted in the Talmud, where it says: “Rav Isaac said, ‘Four things tear up the [evil] decree against a person, and these are them: charity, crying out (prayers), changing one’s name, and changing one’s deeds, and some say even changing one’s place of residence’” (Talmud Rosh Hashana 16b).
The act of changing names is even recorded in the Torah. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. Only once their names were changed were they able to conceive the son for whom they had waited so long (Genesis 17).
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