Columns - 2012

    A Schmo By Any Other Name

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Jewish Life columnist

    People have been calling Jews names since the start of time. Even longer than there have been playgrounds and school recess. Even since before Jews were called Jews.

    When did all the name-calling begin? It goes all the way back to before the first Jew was born. It goes all the way back to (six days after) The Beginning.

    Adam (or, in Hebrew, "Adam") was the first person, even though there is no "I" in "Adam." Adam was created from the dust of the ground, which in Hebrew is "Adama" (the commander of the Battlestar Galactica, as played by Lorne Greene and later Edward James Olmos).

    Of course, studying the name's origin in other languages is far more revealing. The Mishnah tractate Bava Gump teaches that we can gain insight into the Big G's feelings about the man he just created by looking at an English breakdown of his name, "Ah, damn." This is further corroborated by extrapolating from "Adam" the Hebrew word "dam," which means blood, leading British scholars to interpret his name as the Big G saying, "Ah, bloody hell."

    If you need any more proof, look to the Big G's commonly misinterpreted statement before creating woman, "It is not good that the man should be alone." Most say this means that Adam seemed lonely. Actually, the Big G saw that man would be trouble, and figured that a woman would keep him in line. (That was his thought, anyway. By virtue of already being everywhere, the Big G had little opportunity to get out much.)

    So along came Eve (or, in Hebrew, "Chava"), the first person to provide product placement for Apple. Named after the third daughter in "Fiddler on the Roof," Chava is a pencil slip away from "Chaya" which means "to live" (itself an ink smear from a hit song in "Fiddler").

    Some rabbinic scholars tried to explain the first lady's name by suggesting that Adam met Eve soon after sundown. But they quickly realized this was far too simple an explanation for Talmudic standards, and stayed out way after sundown to consider further.

    Bava Gump once again provides a rare insight. Eve's Hebrew name means "life," which explains why generations of Jewish men have felt that (or been treated by their mothers and the community as if) they had no life until they found a woman.

    Ten generations later came the ark-builder Noah, and his wife Joan-of. While the Torah's parchment was relatively safe after just four mentions of Chava's name, the many instances of his Hebrew name, "Noach," would make the scroll wipe its face and blink repeatedly if it could.

    In Hebrew, "nacham" means comfort, which Bava Gump says reveals two things about Noah. First, the ark was a nicer accommodation for the animals than people realize. Second, it proves Noah was destined to comfort all of humanity evermore when after the flood he created wine.

    The Hebrew word for rest, "nuach," is a more direct relation to Noach's name. However, given the long years of ark building, plus many weeks dealing with all those animals, no amount of rest or wine after the flood would seem enough.

    Bava Gump reminds that there were six days of creation to just one day of rest. Therefore this proportion of work to rest for Noah, plus his name's etymology, teaches that if one day a week is good enough for the Big G, it's good enough for humanity.

    The Bible is replete with other examples, including the names of places as well as people. For example, after the death of King Solomon, Israel split into two kingdoms, the southern of which was called "Judah" as a clear indication of the new kingdom's unchanged demographic ("Jew... duh...").

    Even in modern times, the sources of names have extra meaning. Look no further than 1948, when the newly founded Jewish state wanted to ensure that the entire world recognized that it "Is Real."

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who by any other name would still not smell sweet -- he doesn't wear perfume. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit For exclusive online content, become a fan at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.