Today is the day of my university’s annual International Street Fair. This is my fourth year in a row attending, and I always get the chance to try new foods and learn new things. Occasionally, you’ll even be able to have your name written in another alphabet. In the past, I’ve asked to see my name in Arabic, but since I’ve studied that language already I didn’t need to inquire this year. Instead, I was lucky enough to have my name painted in Hebrew!
Only, the booth offering to paint people’s names didn’t initially want to paint my name, which is Elizabeth. Despite the fact that Elizabeth is Hebrew-derived, and therefore a Semitic name, speakers of Hebrew and Arabic often don’t want to write my name in their alphabets. When it came to writing it in Arabic, I was told that all the vowels make it difficult to render in that language. Yeah…I generally write my name with the letters only, without vowel marks.
The reason why the fair’s Israeli booth didn’t want to transliterate my name was far more interesting. As it turns out, Elizabeth/Elisheva/Elisheba is a very old Hebrew name. I don’t just mean that because it’s Biblical (Old and New Testament); I already knew it was objectively ancient. Basically, though, I may as well have told them my name was Hildegarde or Gertrude.
They told me Israelis hardly ever use Biblical names like mine now. If I heard correctly, Modern Israeli choices include Lior, Dar, Dor, and Bar. Namely, short, secular Hebrew words. Indeed, they initially wanted to write Aliza – “happy” – on my paper rather than Elizabeth or Elisheva, which means something like “consecrated to God.” I do love the name Aliza. But, it’s not Elizabeth, and Aliza is definitely not to be confused with Eliza. Aliza is its own name, people who like creative spellings!
Ultimately, they did paint my name on the page (though Aliza would have been totally okay). I asked if Bible names were more common among American speakers of Hebrew and Yiddish, and the answer was yes. Names like David, Abraham/Avraham, and Moses/Moshe are far more popular among American and Diaspora Jews, and among the very religious.