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Is your name “Rivka”? Rebecca? Beck? Rose? Or Yerachmiel!

My mother was in a class today and somebody asked about the meaning of the name Rivka.  She figured I would know, having one for a kid and all.  I told her I remembered from deep, way back, that it meant “to bind,” but that I’d look it up for her, because I don’t have a source.

I didn’t choose the name for its meaning, but rather, because both my grandmothers had the name:  my father’s mother, Rose, was Chana Rivka; my mother’s mother, Rebecca (everybody called her Beck), was just Rivka. 

[Actually, I remember her sister saying once that her name was Rivka Keindel.  However, I have never seen or heard the name Keindel (rhymes with Sheindel) anywhere else, so I dropped this assertion early on and it is not on her grave; the sister did not say anything at the time she was buried.]

So it was clear we were going to have a Rivka, and it’s a good name, a tzadekes following in the giant footsteps of Sara Imenu, which is an image I enjoy.  So I didn’t bother looking up the name, when Naomi Rivka was born, or ever since.

Naomi loves the family history, by the way.  Just as she loves all things Flower Fairies, she loves being named after a Rose.  She would probably choose the name Rose herself, if she could.

But now, of course, I have the Internet!  (thanks to Ted handily intercepting the cutting-off-the-Internet-guy who was trying to do his job due to nonpayment of the Internet bill)

So I assured my mother I could get her a better definition for the name.  Ha ha ha… not really, as it turns out.

Many of the web entries are of the unhelpful “Biblical name” variety, like this one, which says, “in the Bible, Rivka was the wife of Isaac.”

From the “out of nowhere” department, the winning answer on this page says it means “a young calf…which is a symbol of innocence.”  Huh?

And then there are the predictable ones that are probably correct.  This site says "possibly a snare,” while this one says "ensnarer.”  Same difference.

Most give some version of "to bind," which is what I said initially.  And the ultimate authority, Wikipedia, says "to tie; to bind; captivating, beautiful,” but doesn’t give a proper shoresh (Hebrew root), which is what I’d really like to put the matter totally to rest.

Funnily enough, there are a bunch of Israeli sites and they just seem to make the definition up out of thin blue air.

This one says "Primary, individualist ambition, initiative, opponents impatience, competitiveness, control, isolation" while another one says it means "bright and wise." 

And finally, here is one that says it means “confident, genuine, competitive, intelligent, reasonable, with energy and courage and ambitious initiative. Adhere to (? sorry – Google translation!). Do not accept dictates from others. Enjoy the admiration and popularity. When they are injured they can be merciless.” 

Well, that is Naomi Rivka to a T.  Have you ever seen her fearsome “I didn’t get hurt don’t you dare get near me” snarl???

I suspect these sites are more connotative than strictly literal when they refer to the “meaning” of the name in question, and most of the Israeli sites offer gematria and numerology information about the name as well.  One,, also includes a helpful icon to let you know whether the name is “international.”  Rivka and Gavriel are; Pinchas and Elisheva are NOT.

However, in terms of meaning, this site offers the same unhelpful explanation as most of the English sites:  “השנייה מארבע האימהות של עם ישראל, אשת יצחק אבינו, בתו של בתואל ואחות לבן הארמי” – “second of the four (fore)mothers, wife of Yitzchak, daughter of Besuel and sister of Lavan the Arami.”  I knew all that already.

What it all means, ultimately, is that perhaps Israelis don't have any more of a clue than us Anglos do when it comes to this name.  So Naomi Rivka will remain my little Rose…by any other name.

While tottling around the site, I stuck in Yerachmiel’s name, and, funnily enough, ShemLi had this to say:  “כינוי לבטלן, עצלן, ביש מזל ולא יוצלח. (דברי הימים א' ב' ט').”  It’s apparently shorthand for a “lazy, unsuccessful, unlucky person.”  Huh?

BUT – and I swear, I did not know this! – it also says the name comes from the Tanach.

I have never been able to find a source for his name; he’s just named after my grandfather, my mother’s father (who was called Sam his whole life – I only found out his name the day he lay dying). 

But apparently that’s just because I wasn’t looking in the right place:  Divrei HaYamim alef, perek bais, pasuk tes (in English, 1 Chronicles 2:9).  There’s even a bit of a genealogy, and a second wife, Atarah (first wife is nameless, for some reason).  Plus, in sefer Shemuel alef (First Samuel), there is a reference to the tribe of  what non-Jewish Bible scholars apparently refer to as “Jerahmeelites.”  After 16 years of knowing NOTHING about this name, it’s suddenly everywhere.

So why is it synonymous with all those negative characteristics?  A superficial glance at the genealogy reveals nothing special:  just the usual lists of names and offsprings and the occasional wife.  Maybe it’s the Hebrew version of the English “shlemiel.”  Oh, I guess that’s Yiddish.  Whatever it is, it’s not HIM.  It’s not his identity; it doesn’t define him.

Hmm… maybe just (occasionally) his report card.


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