Historically, women assume their new husband’s family name (or surname) after marriage and usually the children of these marriages are given their father’s surname.

Years ago I legally changed my name to “Jonah ben Reuben”. Many of my friends considered that I was going through some kind of identity crisis or that I had decided to deny Christ and convert to Judaism. (Some of my well- meaning Christian friends made it their mission to “re-convert” me) Some of my relatives even heard rumors that I changed my name as a sign that I had disowned my family. I assure you that none of those things were true. So why would I legally change my name and go through all of that grief?

For many years I had studied Scripture, attended Bible studies, went to church and did all the things that good Christians are supposed to do. I had no doubt that I was saved and was destined to go to heaven when I died. But I always felt that there was still something missing.

It wasn’t until my son was killed in an auto accident that I realized that my entire spiritual life revolved more around me than on God. After the accident I spent the next year dissecting Scripture looking for answers. Many nights I spent literally on my face before God, crying out in repentance. Finally, I was at a point where God could share His heart with me and begin the healing process. And suddenly I was truly a new creature!

Not that I was more saved now than I was before, but God had given me a brand new perspective on what becoming a new creature really meant. Soon after, I felt that God wanted me to choose a Hebrew name to signify the change that He had wrought in me.

The sages say that one of the virtues of the Jews in their exile in Egypt was that they did not alter their names because that would have signaled an altered worldview, the adoption of a different lifestyle and a scrapping of their past. A change of name for the convert then, signals the embracing of a new philosophy, a new identification, a purposeful, mindful statement of intent for the future.

Changing your name is a choice, not a requirement

Although changing our name after conversion is not required in Scripture, even Christianity teaches that there must be a formal designation of our conversion that is plainly evident. Are we not told that as Christians, we now wear the name of Jesus and that His name should be worn as a badge of spiritual courage and accomplished idealism?

Jewish tradition teaches that a convert is treated as a newborn child. (k’tinok she’nolad) And reference to the parent must be of spiritual parentage adopted by entering into the Covenant of Abraham. A new person needs a new name. That is why the rabbis instituted that converts should choose Hebrew names for their new Jewish lives.

I had chosen the name “Jonah ben Reuben” because ‘Jonah’ means, dove; which is a symbol of the Holy Spirit; ‘ben’ is Hebrew for son; and Reuben means, “behold a son!”

Unlike English, Hebrew is read from right to left so my name literally means “Behold, a son of the Holy Spirit!”

Traditionally when the naming ceremony is held for a Jewish convert a prayer is recited as follows:

“Our God and God of our Fathers: Sustain this man in the Almighty’s Torah and in Your commandments and may his name in Israel be _____________, the son of Abraham, our Father. May he rejoice in the Torah, and exult in the commandments. Give thanks to God, for He is good and His kindness is to all eternity. May ____________, the son of Abraham, our Father, grow to become great. So may he enter the Almighty’s Torah, with His commandments and good deeds.”

I did not have a formal naming ceremony, but I was changed all the same. What was most surprising to me was how it also changed others around me.

There are still some who believe that because I strive to follow TORAH that I no longer live under grace but seek to be accepted by following The Law.

When my son was young he obeyed my rules. Not because he thought that I would love him more if he obeyed, or out of fear that I would love him less if he didn’t. He obeyed BECAUSE he loved me.

Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” John 14:23-24

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Comments
  1. Stephanie says:

    siblings. I was left out of many social gatherings, stood up, and forgotten in poverty. But Jesus “claimed me”. In later years, my dad made an attempt to include me, repenting and calling me “family”. I appreciated his integrity and thought of him very highly for it. Still, he had a bitter wife that did not seem to want us to be a part of his life. She caused him much heartache, and i was very saddened by it. She apparently did not understand the feeling or value of belonging in a familI have long considered changing my name as well. At first, i kept the last name of the man that i thought i would stay married to. Circumstances have proven to me that we cannot decide the actions of others. After he (husband #2) left, i considered resuming my maiden name. However, a family member disgraced that name publicly, which brought an array of unwanted questions about a topic i did not wish to discuss or think about.
    Also, having other older children whom i believed may have been stigmatized by public school staff etc., for having a differing last name than me, I did not wish that upon my youngest child. Her father actually offered to adopt my two older children, but their biological father refused; stating “that’s my blood”, as his reasoning, although he made little attempt to support them, almost no action to be involved in their lives, other than an occasional hello, a birthday card written by his latest wife, and a few visits throughout their childhood. The visits can be counted on one hand.

    The youngest child was not subjected to being categorized as an “at risk” student, since her custodial parent (me) had the same last name. However, i did feel a special allegiance to my dad, nearly accepting back my maiden name. There were several years in age difference between the youngest and the older children, so the issue never came up in school, church, or daycare, and she lead a fairly normal childhood in that regard.

    Also, i noticed that my last name was easily remembered by many people, lending to being a good business name (that folks recognize). That was a complimentary benefit to having my last name. On the flip-side, since most people i meet know me as single; the name spurns thought about others they have known in school, township, or business that carry the last name. Easily recognized, people that i meet often ask me if I know this or that relative that carries my married name. It is a bit awkward, and i get tired of questions for which i have few answers; since i do not remember, nor have i met many of my ex-husbands family who bear the same name. Apparently there are athletes, successful businesses, and at least one school principal with the name. They seem to reign mostly from Northeastern Nebraska, and are of Czechoslovakian decent. Kinda fun being thought of as a Bohemian. Not in my lineage whatsoever though. Like the food!

    My youngest daughter even questioned me (after being questioned by her father), as to why i hung on to “his” last name. The more i thought about it…the more i wanted to keep it! After all, the name WAS given to me! It was mine to keep! It stirs thoughts about how “WE ARE HIS”, when Our Heavenly Father has put HIS stamp of ” BELONGING” in His Kingdom on us! Most of my life i have felt like an orphan, and was treated like a casual acquaintance or stranger by my relatives.
    Some would call it “the black sheep syndrome”, although i did have two parents and two siblings. Still, being “poor” in that family, meant that i was “less than” others who had achieved “success” in monetary terms. Later, although i finally came across better financial standing; i had to fight to retain my “good standing” and not get shoved back to the back of the line….not to get placed back “into” the “old shoe” i had grown out of. Illness and sudden unexpected calamity had caused financial overstress, disability and loss. After years of attempting to accept my losses, i am currently trying a access my abilities and potential.
    However, I decided that my identity did not revolve around what miserably materialistic or mean and misunderstanding people thought of me! I know that God loves me, and see’s me as beautiful! Even through all of my flaws! Even without two breasts, a bum neck, a head injury, nearly 7 feet of scar tissue, an anxiety disorder, a bad foot, an injured hip, and a beat up old car.

    So, i was finally about to take the “plunge” and change my full name, as the mention of my first name, especially by my mother “grinded in my ears” like squeaking chalk. It was often used out of anger, and meant punishment. But my dad never said my name in a mean or hostile way. it was always endearing and had a different intonation. I finally thought i could part with the last name of a man that did not want me to have his name anymore….when just about then….Wallah! i discover that I have a granddaughter in HI that bears my first name, given out of love, honor, and respect! NO WAY do i ever wish to change it now!
    As far as the last name, so glad i did not change it again when i re-married for a short time in 2008! Talk about confusion…i am not even sure it WAS his last name!!! Wholly Shcmokes!!!

    In examination of the Bible, i see men changing their names, people changing their lives, hearts surrendering to the only one who will ever really know them throughout! My inspiration comes from my Father above, and from my dear son Luke whom i lost in December 2012. My life will forever be changed!

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