The Halacha of Changing One’s Jewish Name
Summary provided by Rabbi Levi Alter
Towards the end of Parshas Lekh Lekha, we are told that Hashem changed Avram’s name to Avraham (Bereishis 17:5) and then changed Sorai’s name to Soroh (Bereishis 17:15). The Gemara in Rosh HaShanah 16b derives that changing a person’s name alters a decree on that person, as does Midrash Bereishis Rabbah Parsha 44 Siman 15 and Midrash Koheles Rabbasi Parsha 5 Siman 4.
The Maharsha on the Gemara in Rosh HaShanah Chidushai Aggados to Rosh HaShanah quotes from the Semag Mitzvos Aseh 17 that when one changes one’s name, one declares that one is a different person. The Eitz Yosef commentary to the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah explains it similarly.
The Ran in Rosh HaShanah 3b in Rif on Shinui HaShem and the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuvah Perek 2 Halacha 4 and Perek 7 Halachos 6 and 7 states part of the process of returning to one’s source is to change one’s name, to declare that one is now a different person.
The Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah Siman 335 Sif 10 and the Ramo, the Aruch HaShulchan Sif 12 and the Gesher HaChaim Chelek 1, Perek 1, Sif 3, Ot 4 on Shinui Hashem advise giving a new name to a person in need of healing, in addition to, not as a replacement for, the original name, even though the Gemara in Berachos 13a says it is improper to refer to one by one’s original name. The Gesher HaChaim says that the new name being added should become the person’s first name, and the original name should become the middle name. The new name is written on the tombstone, is used when a Keil Molei Rachamim is said, when Yizkor is recited, and when Mishanyos are learned in one’s memory, forever. The Sefer Ta’amei HaMinhagim quotes from the Shaloh Kitzur 335, Inyanei Sefer Torah that this name will be used when the person and person’s children are called to the Torah. In the Shulchan Aruch Even HaEzer Siman 129 Sif 18 the Ramo rules regarding a Get that the new name and any nickname associated with it is to be mentioned first. The Pischei Teshuvah Sif Katan 53, 54 and the Be’er Heitev Sif Katan 32 concur.
The Sefer Ta’amei HaMinhagim quotes authorities who stress that one must be very careful about changing one’s name and do so in the presence of a Talmid Chochom and a Tzaddik who will have the proper Kavanos.
In Shulchan Aruch Even Haezer 129 Bet Shmuel 33, Igrot Moshe by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Even HaEzer IV 104, states: “A name that a person is called by for thirty days becomes one’s Halachic name.” We change the name by the recitation of Tehillim in the presence of a Minyan with special Tefillos, including a Yehi Ratzon, for a name which symbolizes life (Chaim, Chaya), health (Raphael, Raphaella), strength (Gabriel, Gabrielle), or hope (Tikva).
In the case of one who was never given a Jewish/Hebrew name, we bestow a name by calling the person by their name, or their representative in their name, to read from the sefer Torah during the