Jewish name for gentile baby?
March 29, 2012 1:46 PM   Subscribe

Is giving my kid a traditionally Jewish name (as a gentile) a bad idea, naive?

BabyNameFilter: We like the name Ira. We're not Jewish and there's not a ton of anti-Semitism where we live. However, baby may grow up and want to move somewhere where that's not the case. His last name is "Smith-ish" if that matters.
posted by kristymcj to Human Relations (77 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Eh, he can always say you were big fans of This American Life.
posted by Oktober at 1:50 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everyone will be forever asking him if he's Jewish or expecting him to get cultural references, which might bug him.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:51 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Granted, I go by my middle name, but my first name is Joseph, and no one ever batted an eye. I say, if you like the name, go for it. I like the name Ira, and I bet your baby will too!
posted by 4ster at 1:51 PM on March 29, 2012


Ira, at least to this NY Jew, isn't a distinctly jewish name. Just an old one.
posted by Pineapplicious at 1:51 PM on March 29, 2012 [18 favorites]


I don't think I immediately thought of "Ira" as a Jewish name, honestly. (It's kind of uncommon for small fry these days, I think, so possibly that connotation isn't going to mean anything to his generation.) I think it'd be fine.
posted by dlugoczaj at 1:52 PM on March 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Anyone that's ignorant enough to be anti-Semitic is going to be ignorant enough to harass your child over clothing, sexual orientation, and a host of other things. I think this is one of the few times where the appropriate answer is "haters gonna hate."
posted by bfranklin at 1:52 PM on March 29, 2012 [30 favorites]


Think of it this way: you may be securing his future against moving to a place where the ambient anti-Semitism is so bad the innocuously Old Testament name "Ira" -- which isn't exactly "Yehuda" or "Moishe" on the Blatantly Jewish Appellation scale -- is going to get him into trouble.
posted by griphus at 1:56 PM on March 29, 2012


Ira isn't particularly Jewish sounding to me either (and I'm a Jew). Nechama or Moshe maybe....But I think you're good to go with Ira.
posted by blue_bicycle at 1:57 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Ira" -- which isn't exactly "Yehuda" or "Moishe"

I figured when opening this thread you were going to be contemplating a name like Moishe. Ira doesn't seem that strongly Jewish to me.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:57 PM on March 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


I have a French-Canadian ancester who was named Ira. I don't think of it as a Jewish name.
posted by pie ninja at 1:58 PM on March 29, 2012


People where there are a lot of Jews will assume he's (at least partly) Jewish. People in places where there are few to no Jews will probably not even think of it that way. If either of those things matter to you.

Also, I think of Ira as a notably Jewish name*, as opposed to some other ostensibly equally Jewish names that Christians give their kids b/c they're biblical. Ira, I would definitely think was a Jew; Ezra or Caleb, probably not.

*Though not, on preview, as much as names like Moshe &c.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:59 PM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think it reads Jewish as much as Park Slope trendy and or lover of show tunes. It's in the top 1000 baby names.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:00 PM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I was expecting something like Shmueli. Ira doesn't immediately ping my jewdar, likely because it is from at least my grandparents' generation, altho possibly my parents' as well.
posted by elizardbits at 2:01 PM on March 29, 2012


The people who would recognize Ira as a Jewish name are not the same people likely to give him grief about it.
posted by theodolite at 2:02 PM on March 29, 2012 [23 favorites]


Doesn't read to me as especially Jewish. Upon googling, I was much surprised that there wasn't an Ira on Little House on the Prairie.
posted by Capt. Renault at 2:02 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


FWIW, the only Ira I've ever known was black. But otherwise it says "old guy" to me.
posted by tommasz at 2:04 PM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would think Ira Glass also.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:06 PM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, keep in mind that if you name him something incredibly common that might read as really Jewish in places outside of the English-speaking world. "Sarah" is a really common girls' name here, but in Russia, it's up there with naming your kid "Hadasah."
posted by griphus at 2:07 PM on March 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


My first, middle and last name are all found in the Old Testament. Sometimes people assume I'm Jewish, but big deal. They shouldn't be jumping to conclusions.
posted by dortmunder at 2:08 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a Rachel with a sister Sarah; my husband Jeremy has a brother Barnaby. We're all agnostics of white Protestant stock. If I've ever encountered anti-Semitism it hasn't even registered. A few people have assumed we were Jewish but only in the charming "Oh! Here's another nice nerdy Jewish couple" kinda way.

Ira's an awesome name.
posted by rdc at 2:09 PM on March 29, 2012


While Ira is a bit on the "Jewish" side of things in a way that a "Jewish" name like Noah isn't nowadays, in my 3.5 year old's circles, biblical names are big... Eli, for example.
posted by k8t at 2:12 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only Ira I've known was a black non-Jewish man.
posted by jdl at 2:14 PM on March 29, 2012


Makes me think of Ira Hayes, a Pima Native American.
posted by zsazsa at 2:14 PM on March 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Ira strikes me as a name that my parents have, so it's not really old enough for it to have gotten itself back into major circulation as a current baby name for many Jews of my age. (You don't name after living relatives.)

Anyways, it strikes me as Jew-ish, like a name that mostly but not only Jews use (unlike Chaim or whatever), but I wouldn't blink at a non-Jew with that name.
posted by jeather at 2:15 PM on March 29, 2012


I mean, a name men my father's age have. Neither of my parents are named Ira.
posted by jeather at 2:15 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ira Louvin, definitely not Jewish.
posted by neroli at 2:16 PM on March 29, 2012


When I hear "Ira", my first thought is of Ira Louvin, the drunk and disreputable half of the great country music duo, the Louvin Brothers. Who I'm pretty sure weren't Jewish.

Ira is an old name, and a good one. Just don't name his brother Charlie.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:18 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the founders of Vermont was called Ira Allen, FWIW.

While it does skew Jewy in my experience, it's not a religious name as far as I know, and even if it were, there are a heck of a lot of gentiles named David and Rachel and stuff like that, so, meh.

In conclusion: It's a neat name. Go for it!
posted by Sys Rq at 2:19 PM on March 29, 2012


On preview: heh, neroli beat me to it. :)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:19 PM on March 29, 2012


It makes me think of the extremely awesome children's book, Ira Sleeps Over, which you should buy for your Ira. It's a great name.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 2:20 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I concur with the folks who think that New Yorkers will expect him to know inane Woody Allen trivia but people in the South won't think twice. For example.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 2:21 PM on March 29, 2012


Data point: I'm Jewish, have a Jewish last name (and username!), and know a lot of Jews. I've seen an episode of Arrested Development with a character named Ira Gilligan. Neither the character nor the actor seems at all Jewish. I've seen the episode several times, and it never occurred to me that there was anything incongruous about the character's name. If the character were named Ira Goldberg, I might have started to think of Ira as a Jewish name, but I reacted to the first name differently because "Gilligan" doesn't sound Jewish. Since your son's name will be similar to "Smith," there will probably be a similar effect. People usually develop impressions based on overall context.

However, none of this excludes the possibility that an especially anti-Jewish person will be particularly attuned to the Jewish connotations of people's names (contrary to theodolite's comment) and will have a negative reaction purely based on the first name.
posted by John Cohen at 2:22 PM on March 29, 2012


I think we have our answer. Thanks, Hive mind!
posted by kristymcj at 2:29 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


New Yorkers will expect him to know inane Woody Allen trivia

New Yorkers expect everyone to know inane Woody Allen trivia. For an additional data point, Ira does not seem like an especially Jewish-sounding name to this Jewish New Yorker. It is a cool name, though. I agree with everyone else: go for it.
posted by The Bellman at 2:33 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


My name is Jewish (my family are not remotely so). It's far less common than Ira, practically nobody who isn't a serious bible/Torah-fiend has heard of it. I wasn't always happy with it but I'm cool with it now.

Ira is absolutely fine, your child will be perfectly normal with a slightly more interesting name than most.
posted by fearnothing at 2:49 PM on March 29, 2012


Yeah, I have tons of ancestors named Ira, none of whom were Jewish. The thing about what names are affiliated with what ethnic group change so much over time, which is illustrated in my own family and my husband's to an amusing degree: my father-in-law is named Irving, which I think of as a name most common, in that generation in the US, among Jewish people; one of my great-uncles was named Irving, at a time in US culture where that was considered a fairly WASPy name. And then the Miltons and the Myrons and the Myleses abound in our extended families, with mine coming a generation or two before his.

I think "Ira" is a great name. I do want to put in my constant plea that someone (since I chose not to have children myself) name their child after my ancestor Zealous B. Tower.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:56 PM on March 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


One of my children has a traditionally - almost exclusively - welsh name. She ain't remotely welsh. So maybe once in a while she'll have to explain. But that's a trivial inconvenience compared to having a beautiful name.
posted by londongeezer at 3:11 PM on March 29, 2012


Also, one of the greatest bits on the situation comedy "All in the Family" was when the bigoted paterfamilias Archie Bunker was carrying on about "the Jews," and he ranted "Oh, they have ordinary last names, like 'Green', but then they have Jewish first names, like 'Milton Green'." His son-in-law and foil Mike says, "Yeah, like Abraham Lincoln," and long-suffering wife Edith says, with real surprise, "Mike! I didn't know Lincoln was Jewish!"
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:16 PM on March 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


Name your second son Hanni (a name I ABSOLUTELY LOVE) and fuck with the haters.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:18 PM on March 29, 2012


Jewish people think my (married) last name is Jewish and Gentiles either don't know or dont care. The "actually I'm not Jewish" was a teensy bit awkward but I got over it.
posted by desjardins at 3:24 PM on March 29, 2012


My daughter's name is Jewish and not common, and I am an agnostic-Protestant of mostly Irish heritage. The meaning and context of the name have significance to me, personally, and as it's a simple name to pronounce and has a culturally-neutral nickname, I never remotely considered it to be a problem. But then, I run in a social circle where multi-ethnic, multi-cultural families are the norm, and pulling bits and pieces of various cultures together for whatever reason doesn't tend to register as abnormal to me until someone points it out...
posted by celtalitha at 3:37 PM on March 29, 2012


Jew here with a non-particularly Jewish name. I don't really think of Ira as particularly Jewish at all. Great name, though.

ethnomethodologist: If you're referring to the name Hani/Chani (the 'h' is guttural, like in Hanukkah/Chanuka/however you want to spell it), you should know that it's a female name. Among Jews, anyway. It's a Yiddishized version of the original Hebrew version of Hannah.
posted by csjc at 3:38 PM on March 29, 2012


I guess I'm in the minority here, but I definitely think "Jewish" when I hear "Ira." My dad's name is Ira (and we have an obviously-Jewish last name) and he *hates* it. People who don't know/assume he's Jewish often think he has a woman's name.
posted by radioamy at 3:38 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Esmeralda: What is your name?
Butch: Butch.
Esmeralda: What does it mean?
Butch: I'm American, honey. Our names don't mean shit.
posted by K.P. at 3:42 PM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I guess I'm in the minority here, but I definitely think "Jewish" when I hear "Ira." My dad's name is Ira (and we have an obviously-Jewish last name) and he *hates* it. People who don't know/assume he's Jewish often think he has a woman's name.

Same. Ira is about as Jewish sounding as it gets imo.
posted by timsneezed at 3:47 PM on March 29, 2012


I'm British and Ira immediately suggests (an older) Jewish male (can't figure out why yet). It's a lovely name, go for it!
posted by humph at 3:56 PM on March 29, 2012


Eh, he can always say you were big fans of This American Life.

I would think Ira Glass also.


Ira Glass is Jewish, and it sounds like people are referencing him without realizing that. So there's that.
posted by Wordwoman at 4:08 PM on March 29, 2012


My kiddo's name is Asher, and nobody has assumed or asked if we're Jewish (he has one Jewish grandparent.) This could just be because we're in a location where Jews are rare and Old Testament names are fairly common. I think Asher and Ira are about the same amount Jewish-sounding - less than Moishe, more than Noah.
posted by Daily Alice at 4:15 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ira just makes me think of Nancy Drew. It's charmingly old-fashioned. That said, you do run the risk of your future son's classmates thinking it's a girl's name...I made that mistake when I first saw it as a kid. It's kind of like Kim that way.
posted by limeonaire at 4:24 PM on March 29, 2012


The solution here if you're really worried about future antisemitism is to give him a secular middle name — or make Ira the middle name and vice versa. Or hell, if you really want to bring out the big guns, give him a saint's name for the extra name. Ira Michael Smith. If he lands someplace where it's a problem, he can go by Mike.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:48 PM on March 29, 2012


This was something I gave some thought to before having our (white) son; we liked a name, like Ira, that kinda leans towards non-WASP associations while not being the exclusive provenance of that group. I decided that it's not a big deal if he surprises people occasionally, and that while I want to give him every advantage in life, "making absolutely sure people know he's a white male" isn't the kind of advantage I want to base my decisionmaking on.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:09 PM on March 29, 2012


It doesn't read Jewish to me at all (California Jew speaking.) I personally do think it's weird to name your kid a name that reads a different ethnicity than s/he is; but Ira on its own doesn't "read" to me any which way, so even by my standards I say go for it. Mazal tov, enjoy your baby! ;)
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:22 PM on March 29, 2012


I'm another person confused by ethnomethodologist's suggestion. "Hanni" is a female name in Finnish as well as in Hebrew; the male equivalent in Finnish is "Hannu". I've never met a male Hanni of any ethnic identity (and all the Hannis on LinkedIn are Finnish ladies except for one, who's a lady in the US).

Is there some Ira/Hanni connection I'm missing?
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:24 PM on March 29, 2012


Ask yourself what your son would want, not what you would want. I think too many people choose names for themselves rather than for their children, setting their kids up for childhoods full of ridicule or lives of constantly having to answer annoying, if innocuous, questions like "Are you Jewish?"

It's much easier to give someone a "cool" name than it is to actually live with a name that invites misguided assumptions and stupid questions.

Why not simplify your son's life and pick a name for him that is good but baggage free?
posted by timsneezed at 5:35 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Both my given name and my family name are considered traditionally Jewish, although I am another religion by birth and upbringing.

Jewish people sometimes assume I'm part of the tribe, and I just correct them politely and quickly when that happens. It doesn't bother me at all. I view it as a net positive in my life, actually. If it seems like they want to be friends because there aren't a lot of other Jewish people around or something, I definitely make it a note to correct them super fast so they don't think I was trying to lie to them or appropriate anything.

Gentiles will sometimes say something subtly anti-Semitic or hint around the issue of my name in a dance I think of as Can I Be Racist In Your Presence Without Social Consequences? I do NOT correct those people, because the answer is, no, you cannot be racist around me without consequence, thanks. I view this as a net positive in my life as well, because it sucks to have racist friends and the sooner I know you're racist, the better.

I've always been interested in the various responses to my name, in sort of sociological experiment type of way. I'm proud of my name and don't have any negative associations about having a name that's considered Jewish. I wouldn't trade it for a name that is considered more in line with my actual religious background.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:55 PM on March 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


Ira is considered to be a saint's name; it's a variation of Irais, and there are three saints by that name.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:27 PM on March 29, 2012


Two of whom are lady saints. I've met a couple of ladies of my father's generation named Ira, perhaps for that reason. Just to make everything more complicated for everyone.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:30 PM on March 29, 2012


I have a very Jewish last name (I'm Jewish), but the funny thing is, some of the most anti-semitic people don't even recognize it as a Jewish name. (lots of anti-semitic types are uneducated). I find that other Jews are the ones who recognize Jewish names most, or maybe people who grew up in a city with a lot of Jews.

Ira does sound kind of Jewish to me, but a lot of other people won't think so, as you can see by this thread. I think non-Jews are less likely to recognize it as a "Jewish" name.

In short, I don't think you will be exposing your son to anything negative with this name.
posted by bearette at 7:15 PM on March 29, 2012


I have the same exact experience as Snarl Furillo. It is interesting to see various responses to my name as well.
posted by Hop123 at 7:19 PM on March 29, 2012


Makes me think of Ira Hayes, a Pima Native American.

And one of Johnny Cash's best songs!
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:44 PM on March 29, 2012


Add me to the list: the only Ira I ever knew IRL was a Black christian guy. And I'm sort of Jewish!
posted by BinGregory at 7:44 PM on March 29, 2012


I'm Jewish and I don't think of Ira as a particularly Jewish name.
posted by SisterHavana at 8:11 PM on March 29, 2012


For the record, I went to synagogue with a family named Smith. : )
posted by SisterHavana at 8:14 PM on March 29, 2012


Half-serious: If you name him Ira (+Middle Name) +Non-Jewish Last Name, you can give him a head start in claiming valuable Gmail + domain name space. I have 3 common WASPy names, and I was hitting using all three + Ms on Gmail before I gave up.

Ira strikes me as charmingly old-fashioned, and always reminds me of Iraan, TX.
posted by nicebookrack at 8:39 PM on March 29, 2012


I grew up in a predominantly Jewish area and my sister has an Old Testament name (we are not Jewish, and our surname is flamingly goyish - think O'Brien). My parents picked the name without really thinking about the connotation as neither of them had grown up around lots of Jews. Her whole life prior to leaving for college, she definitely got random favors from people who assumed she was Jewish because anyone living in our neck of the woods with her first name obviously would be. It was actually kind of awesome.
posted by troublesome at 9:03 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


there are lots and lots of traditionally jewish names in my family and they're all mormons. it causes a raised eyebrow or two but has never caused an actual problem to my knowledge.
posted by nadawi at 1:30 AM on March 30, 2012


Ira seems TOTALLY jewish to me. Unless he walked around talking about his church, i'd assume he was jewish. But i'm jewish, so it wouldn't have a negative impact on him. But he might find the mis identification annoying. And yes, there is anti-semitism out there, and he'd occasionally have to deal with it, but not often enough that i'd let that be a concern.

There's a bajillion names out there that you could give your kid. Why not choose one that doesn't have potential annoyances attached?
posted by Kololo at 7:17 AM on March 30, 2012


Jewish. We had a dog named Ira growing up. He was named after Ira Hayes. Would not consider the name Jewish at all.

Why not simplify your son's life and pick a name for him that is good but baggage free?

Few names are truly baggage-free, and the "inconvenience" of being mistaken for a Jew is ridiculously minor. It seems like a really silly fear, and this is speaking as someone with a weird, non-Jewish sounding name that is both difficult to spell and frequently mistaken for goyish. You like the name. That's what matters.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:24 AM on March 30, 2012


There's a bajillion names out there that you could give your kid. Why not choose one that doesn't have potential annoyances attached?
Uh, which names would fall under that category? All names have different meanings for different people. No name is free from connotations or possible annoyances.

The name reminds me Ira Glass, and Ira of of Yo La Tengo. In a good way. It's easily pronounceable, quirky without being totally outside cultural traditions, and will help him root out people who make fun of names because of idiocy or racism. Ivo is kind of similar, but not as easily pronounceable (usually eeee-vo, not I-vo.)
posted by barnone at 8:08 AM on March 30, 2012


I once dated a nice Jewish boy. He was named Ira. After a tax shelter.
-- Rita Rudner
posted by Mchelly at 8:38 AM on March 30, 2012


Another California Jew with a ridiculously Yiddishe name. Ira does read kind of Jewish to me, but, really, it reads more old-timey than Jewish. If you're concerned, you can always give him an awesome middle name to balance it out.
posted by bluejayway at 8:45 AM on March 30, 2012


Ha. My parents are (not Jewish) from India and almost named my brother Herschel like the football player, also not Jewish I don't think. They didn't end up naming him that for reasons unrelated but I think it's a nice name, as is Ira, and you should go for it!
posted by sweetkid at 9:02 AM on March 30, 2012


When I hear "Ira" I think first of the Johnny Cash song about Ira Hayes. I also think that no name is ever going to be baggage-free (kids are amazingly inventive about teasing). Then again I live in the SF Bay Area and went to school with a girl named "Delite" (actual spelling). "Dr. Ira Lastname" or "Justice Ira Lastname" is going to look a LOT better and more dignified than "Dr. Faramir Lastname" or "Justice Sunflower Sativa Lastname." (Really, kids aren't pets, and parents need to think of what the name they choose will sound like on a grownup!)

Another bonus to Ira: It is so easy for a little kid to print and spell! Three letters, intuitive pronunciation. He's going to have a much easier time in kindergarten.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:07 AM on March 30, 2012


The name reminds me Ira Glass, and Ira of of Yo La Tengo.

These guys are jewish, though, right? so it doesn't really address the question...

I'd assume he was jewish, & probably be a bit confused if he was a practicing christian. If religion never came up, it might not occur to me to consider it. But really, if identity / ethnicity / minority experience / etc were raised, my starting point with the name Ira would be that he was Jewish. Whether that matters, I don't know. I am from NY but not jewish myself (but a high percentage of my friends are).
posted by mdn at 9:16 AM on March 30, 2012


Ira isn't actually a Jewish name (it has no Hebrew equivalent, even). I suspect it became known as one because, traditionally, Jews are named after dead relatives, and "Yitzchok" (Isaac) was a very, very popular Jewish name. But its English translation, Isaac, was not only not a common name in America (especially when the largest waves of Jews came to this country between 1880-1950), but was almost exclusively assumed to be used by Jews.

That period was also at a time when anti-Semitism was far more prevalent than it is today. So when parents would give their children a Hebrew name, they would also give them an English one for outsiders. And (especially in the case of immigrants) they didn't always know what names were common and which ones were rare. So you see a lot of older Jews from those generations named Ira, Isidor, Irving, Izzy, etc (and that's just the I's - Irving Berlin's given name was Israel).
posted by Mchelly at 9:31 AM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


These guys are jewish, though, right? so it doesn't really address the question...

Well, sure. But for me, it's a different reference point. The name Ira doesnt make ME think Jewish, old man, or some of the others references above. I think of two specific creative and interesting people, and they don't come to mind because they are Jewish.

If the question is "is it naive to give my non-Jewish baby a traditionally Jewish name? Do people hear 'Ira' and immediately think 'Jewish'? Or is it a bad thing in general?" my response is no, I don't automatically rush to thinking he's Jewish, I have two other reference points, and in both cases my brain leaps to "creative, slightly geeky in a good way, and interesting." Not old man, Jewish, or American. All of which is to say, that not everyone will meet her baby and think Jewish only to be surprised to learn otherwise, or that it's a weird choice for a non-Jew. (not that I would really ever think 'weird! Uncool!' for names anyway. 'Huh, different, cool!' is more likely, and since it wouldn't seem that different, that isn't the case here.)
posted by barnone at 9:43 AM on March 30, 2012


First of all, don't forget Ira Flatow, host of Talk of the Nation: Science Friday.

Second, don't sweat it-- people will figure out he's not Jewish and it's no big deal, nor any kind of reflection on you.

A friend of mine named her daughter Hannah, and she has occasionally gotten mistaken for a Jew, and no harm has ever come to her as a result. (She's... 14? thereabouts.) I do like to ask my friend, "How's your Jewish daughter?" whenever we catch up, but that's our joke.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:28 AM on March 30, 2012


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