By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Professor Dalton Conley of NYU is a well-known sociologist and author. He named his son “Yo Xing Heyno Augustus Eisner Alexander Weiser Knuckles,” reportedly the longest name in New York City’s official archives. Had he been Jewish and had he posed the question to Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, shlita, he would have been advised against giving his son such a name. In Chassidic circles (and in many Litvish circles, too), multiple names are very much accepted. But in many other circles, multiple names are discouraged.
The Chazon Ish
In the work titled Pe’er HaDor, about Rav Avrohom Yeshayah Karelitz, zt’l (1878–1953), author of the Chazon Ish (Vol. IV p. 200), it is brought down that he was very much against naming a child after two people. He held that a concatenation of two (or more) names is, in effect, a new name. It thus has no benefit for the child, nor is it a fulfillment of kibbud av v’eim when the name of the one individual is not given. He stated that the kedushah, the overflow of holiness, that one receives when naming after a tzaddik, only comes when the exact same name is used.
Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Teshuvos v’Hanhagos Vol. I #608), shlita, cites the Chazon Ish not to name a child with two names. This is also the view commonly attributed to Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, shlita. Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul, zt’l, held that one should not name two names because of an entirely different reason: there is a chance that one of the names will end up not being used and the child will incur damage on account of this.
The Chazon Ish was not the first to express this idea of avoiding two names.
The great Acharon Rav Yechezkel Landau (1713–1793), writes (Nodah B’Yehuda M.T. O.C. 113) that nowhere in the Talmud do we find any Tanna or Amora who was called by two names. Therefore, he concludes, there is no point in giving someone two names. The same conclusion is made by Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762–1839) in his responsa (Shu’t Chasam Sofer E.H. #8).
It seems that the name Yonasan Aryeh found in Yevamos 122b must be understood as a form of a last name (such as Yehudah Maccabi) where the latter name is a family title indicating great strength. Alternatively, it could be understood as “Hashem has given a lion.” Similarly, the name Bas Sheva would be understood as one name, i.e., the seventh daughter.
Professor Conley named his daughter “E,” the shortest name in the New York City archives. We do find, l’havdil, a Tanna in Pirkei Avos who seems to have been named after a letter — twice, in fact. In Pirkei Avos, Ben Hay Hay tells us “L’fum tza’ara agra,” according to the level of difficulty involved in observing a mitzvah is the reward. Most people focus on his message, but let’s take a moment to focus on the rabbi’s name.
Ben Hei Hei seems to be two names. The Torah Lishma (Responsa #402) cites this very notion as a proof that one may even name someone after a Hebrew letter.
There is a Tosfos in Chagigah 9b that states that Ben Hei Hei was actually a ger tzedek and that this name was given to him because it alludes to the fact that he is a descendant of Avraham and Sarah. Both Avraham and Sarah received the extra letter “hei” from Hashem. It could be that this would not be considered two names on account of the view of this Tosfos.
Rav Menashe Klein (1924–2011), zt’l, in his Mishnah Halachos (Vol. V #215), on the other hand, is of the opinion that it is not only perfectly fine to have two names, but he disagrees with the contention that it was a rarity in previous times. He cites numerous examples in Tanach as well as in the Rishonim that people did have two names.
Rav Sraya Dublitsky (1925–2018), zt’l, a student of the Chazon Ish, is quoted in Korei Sh’mo (p. 149) as saying that the custom is not like the Chazon Ish, and we do name people with two names.
There are even opinions that giving multiple names is beneficial for the child in that it brings more berachah from heaven (Sdei HaAretz Y.D. Vol. III #22 as cited in Vayikra Sh’mo b’Yisrael p. 80).
As an aside, in his Igros Moshe (O.C. Vol. V #10), Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, uncharacteristically discusses the historical reasons for the development of giving two names.
When Naming Two Names
It is important that if one does follow the minhag to name a child with two names that both names be used. The sefer Ben Yehoyada (Taanis 25b) writes that if one leaves out one of the names, the pouring out of blessing from the letters of his second name is prevented from reaching him. Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul, zt’l, stated that leaving out the second half of the name can even cause the child damage, chalilah.
There are those who forbid a person to create a nickname based upon an abbreviation of two names. For example, if someone had the name Eliyahu Mordechai, it would be improper to nickname him Elmo (aside from the issue of naming a child after a non-Jew or a Sesame Street character). Others disagree with this view. Indeed, Rav Chaim Kanievsky is cited in Keser Shem Tov (Vol. II #112) as permitting it.
The main thing, of course, whenever deciding upon a name, is to maintain shalom and not to cause an argument when things do not go the way one wants. Shalom is actually one of Hashem’s Holy Names, and it is something that we daven for in every Shemoneh Esrei and Kaddish. May Hashem bless Klal Yisrael with peace.
Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.