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