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What's in a Name?

02/20/2019 08:20:42 AM


Rabbi Sam Shabman Trief

Throughout middle school and high school, I was known endearingly as “Shabs.” When I finished rabbinical school and moved to Atlanta, Shabs evolved to Rabbi Sam, but the people I have known the longest still call me Shabs. I wondered what would happen to my identity if I were to adopt my husband’s last name...what would happen to the part of me that was Shabs? Would that old piece of me be lost forever? I took these questions seriously, knowing the act of naming is very significant in our Jewish tradition. 

After a few years of marriage, this month, I finally decided to take the plunge and change my name from Samantha Ashley Shabman to Samantha Shabman Trief (pronounced Tree-f). The process of changing my name took a long time. I kept saying it was because I wanted to avoid a trip to the DMV, but I thought to myself perhaps I was also stalling. Though the name change seems simple, the accompanying change of identity was more complex. 

In Hebrew, as many of us know, the word for soul is ”Neshama.” The middle two letters form the word “shem / name”, hinting that our name is connected to our soul. The Biblical Book of Samuel contains the famous saying "kishmo ken hu / Like his name, so is he." Our name impacts who we are by shaping and defining our character. 

Ultimately, I decided that I wanted to have the same name as my husband, and Baby Rafi. I feel that having the same name connects our family unit in a deeper, more spiritual way. By making “Shabman” my middle name, I am eternally connected to my family of origin. The times in my life when I was a Shabman will always be a part of me, and will inform my new identity as I evolve as Samantha Trief.

As with many things in life, change occurs gradually and questions remain. Will I go by Rabbi Sam or Rabbi Trief? Will I feel at home in the newness that a new name brings? So, for now, I will just bask in this stage of transition and not put pressure on myself to feel a certain way.  

As Judaism is all about asking questions, this Shabbat, I invite you to ask yourself- What does your name mean to you? What names and nicknames have followed you throughout the various stages of your life? And as your name has changed, did your sense of self change with it? 

Wishing you a reflective and relaxing Shabbat,


Tue, February 18 2020 23 Sh'vat 5780