A user has recently asked two questions (1, 2) about Yiddish names that have been closed as off-topic, with the specific close reason "Questions about the Hebrew language or about history or news of the Jewish people, Jewish individuals, or the State of Israel, except as related to Judaism, are off-topic." I saw one of these questions today in the reopen queue.

I don't fully understand the reason for these closures. Do the close-voters object to these questions because they are about Jews, and not Judaism? I don't think that would make sense, because there is certainly something about Jewish that are on topic. Perusing that tag, I found a few questions about the meaning and history of names, like this one (admittedly about a Biblical personality, so it's on-topic for other reasons), this one (which also concerns a Biblical personality, but that fact was not known to the asker), among various others about tannaim and amoraim.

More importantly, there is a group of questions that ask specifically about the etymology of Yiddish names that have not been closed.

Are the questions about Zundel and Isser somehow different? I don't see how, but am open to explanation.


The meanings of names is a part of Judaism.

I think that these questions should be on topic on Mi Yodeya. Jewish names and their meanings, while they may also relate to Hebrew/Yiddish language and Jewish history (which is off topic), also have an aspect that is part of Judaism; for example, naming a baby or similar.

Note: This does not mean that questions about names are exempt from whatever research requirements or quality guidelines that apply to all questions on the site. If you see a poorly asked question about name meanings, feel free to downvote it. But please keep in mind that a close vote is not a super downvote, so don't vote to close unless the question is actually closeable for one of the reasons in the close question menu.

  • Questions about the ceremony or process of naming babies are certainly on topic, but that isn't what the question is about. – Double AA Feb 20 '17 at 4:23
  • What defines a name as a "Jewish name" that information about it is automatically on topic? – Double AA Feb 20 '17 at 4:24
  • "The meanings of names is a part of Judaism." This is an objectively false statement. I can provide you with a name whose meaning is not a part of Judaism. – Double AA Jul 9 '18 at 16:57

I guess I have to agree with DoubleAA's answer that the etymology of a (Jewish) name is not intrinsically on-topic. However, giving a baby his Jewish name is an act of Judaism, so any question about that act is a question about Judaism. Arguably this includes questions about the frequency, geography, onset, or curtailment of the giving of a certain name, such as "Is Shprintza given as a girl's name in the North African communities?", "How old is the name Shprintza?", and "How common is the name Shprintza?" (the latter because it's equivalent to "How often do Jewish parents give the name Shprintza to their children?"). (I'm assuming that the Judaism aspect of the question would be stated or implicit, viz that the question is about people so named in Judaism namings and not in American legal namings.) (But not, as DoubleAA notes, etymology, unless, for example, the OP's stated reason is naming-related.)

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    I largely agree with your comment, but have one gripe: How is asking about the etymology of a name substantially differ from asking "Where does X minhag come from?" The latter question would definitely be allowed - so why not with names? – SAH Apr 4 '17 at 11:42
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    I don't see how etymology differs meaningfully from "geography, onset"... – SAH Apr 4 '17 at 11:44
  • @SAH, my reasoning is that a name isn't a minhag or Jewish. But naming is, so anything to do with naming is on-topic. That would include "how many people named their kids Shprintza?" but afaict not a question seeking its etymology. But maybe my line in the sand is a poor one to have drawn.... – msh210 Apr 4 '17 at 17:11

The meaning of a name (or more precisely, the meaning of the etymological root of the name) is not itself part of Judaism, just like the meaning of any other word is not. A Jew's having a certain name doesn't make it part of Judaism (there are in all likelihood Jews nowadays named "Christian", and there have been Jews named "Antiginus", "Sumkus", and "Alexander"), nor does a name having an etymological root in Hebrew make it part of Judaism (consider "Jesus" or "Musa" or "Mayim").

Like any other word, asking about the meaning of a name as part of understanding a practice or text of Judaism is on topic, just like asking for help with a specific word in the bible or in the liturgy ("What does מלך mean?" is off topic, as is "What does the name מלך mean?", but "What does the fifth word in this blessing mean?" is on topic). In those cases we generally insist on having an explicit Judaism tie-in in the question, and this should be no different.

  • are name meaning questions on topic over at Genealogy & Family History? – Double AA Feb 19 '17 at 15:25
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    I was under the impression that Judaism held that a person's name held special (perhaps mystical) meaning. If true, a name may have a literal linguistic meaning, but there is also an underlying spiritual meaning as well. – JJLL Feb 20 '17 at 0:33
  • @jjll Judaism rarely has a unanimous opinion on anything. In any event, if a question is related to Judaism then just include that explicitly. – Double AA Feb 20 '17 at 0:35

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