“Can you spell that [Yiddish name] please?”

“Can you spell that [Yiddish name] please?”

Every letter in a person’s name in Lashon HaKodesh (the Holy Tongue) is precise—whether the name is of Hebrew-language origin or what is known as la’az (foreign-language). A correct spelling is most halachically significant with regard to a get (bill of divorce) as has been explained in a previous halachah (Halachah #141). There are some main principles to follow (although there are always exceptions, and comprehensive halachic writings have lists of the correct spellings of many popular names).

One formula applies to a name that ends with the patach or kamatz sound “ah.” A Hebrew name with this ending syllable usually concludes with the letter ה (hey), for example, רבקה (Rivkah).

On the other hand, a Yiddish name, or one with etymology in most foreign languages, ends with an א (alef), like גאלדא (Golda). Also, ויקטוריא (Victoria) for Sephardim. Ashkenazim spell the same nameוויקטאריא .

The last letter of a diminutive of a Hebrew name in a foreign language that ends in “ah” is generally ה as well, such as ריבה (Riva), רבקלה (Rivkela) andרבקולה (Rivkula), although there are exceptions. In cases where the correct spelling—ending in א or ה—is not verifiable, a ה is optimal.

Another rule refers to the tzeireh syllable “ei,” as in the name ליב )Leib(, spelled by Ashkenazim with a single י (yud). However, the name has alternate pronunciations based on locale, and where the name is enunciated “Lahyb” (similar to light), the spelling לייב is preferred.

When a person is unsure of the correct spelling of a name, an experienced Rav who is knowledgeable in these matters should be consulted.


Practical Halacha: One minute a day. By Horav Yosef Yeshaya Braun, shlita, Mara D'asra and member of the Badatz of Crown Heights.