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Do Hebrew names have meaning?

When I sit down to write my romances, selecting names for my heroines and heroes is a crucial task. Names carry connotations, and in the case of Hebrew names, they often bear literal meanings.

In biblical times Itzhak (Isaac) earned his name "he will laugh" because his mother laughed at the Angel who told her she would get pregnant (she was a hundred years old at the time). Yaacov (Jacob) caught his brother's heel and followed him out (Yaacov=he will follow). Later, God changed his name to Israel, signifying disobedience to God, as he had fought with an angel and emerged victorious.

In modern Hebrew, unless you come from a conservative or religious background (I am neither), we tend to use different names, but they often still carry meaning.

It's very common in English to use flower names to name girls. We have that here as well, but we also use tree names. It's interesting to note which trees become names and which ones don't. Oren, the Hebrew name for pine, is very common, while cypress, brosh, isn't. Alon, meaning oak, is used a lot, as is Shaked, which refers to the almond tree. However, Te’ena, meaning fig, isn't a common name. Shikma Bressler the remarkable woman leading the protests against Bibi Netanyahu's corrupt reign carries the name of the sycamore tree.

The animal kingdom provides quite a few names. Ze’ev is wolf, Dov is bear, Zvi is stag, and Ayala is doe. While these names may seem peculiar in English, they make perfect sense in Hebrew.

As I began writing my latest book, I had already decided on the name Dafna (the Hebrew name for the laurel tree) for the female protagonist. However, I found myself without a fitting first name for the male lead, despite having his last name, Ben Ami, which means 'the son of my people', from the get go.

I shared my dilemma with my group of author colleagues, and Blaine, my Dutch friend, ran it by Chat GPT, I think she asked for Hebrew names for strong male characters. The first name suggested was Erez. Yes! I immediately knew this was the right name. All the Erez men I know are real studs.

Erez is the Hebrew name for the cedar tree, and Solomon imported cedars from Lebanon to build the first temple. The tree and the name carry connotations of strength and solidity. Erez in my book has a younger brother, whom I named Eitan (the English equivalent being Ethan). Eitan literally means firm and long-lived, conveying a similar vibe.

Erez meets Dafna in a pub while filling in for his brother, who has a penchant for taking older women on one-night joy rides. Dafna, having heard of the brother, mistakenly assumes Erez to be Eitan, and hits on him. He plays along, but still tells her his real name.

This is what she tells her best friend, the next day at work:

“I met a guy yesterday. His name is Erez. He has beautiful green eyes, and black hair, and tattoos. He used to surf in Australia, and he makes great mojitos.”

Nurit smiled hugely, dropped the fan, and clapped her hands.

“Bravo, Dafna! Bravo!” She went as far as leaving her chair and coming around her desk to hug Dafna. “That’s the first time I heard you talk about anyone other than your ex. Erez is a nice name.”

“Yep. It is a nice name.”

“When you say ‘met’, is it like met-met or just met?”

Dafna laughed. A belly moving, joyful laugh.

“Met-met,” she confirmed.

Pulling Her Resources is out March 15, You can pre-order the eBook, or buy the print book, right here:

Here is the "How hot do you like it" survey results, when one pepper stands for 'clean' romance while five is 'as filthy as they come'.  All glory and blame belong to my newsletter subscribers:

Further reading:

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