Part of the conversion process into Judaism involves choosing a name. A Jewish name.
I was all over that assignment, because I have never identified with my name, nor have I liked it. At all. To me, it’s ugly. And masculine. I’m often assumed to be a man because of my name. I hate that…especially when I see how differently I’m treated once it’s discovered that I’m a woman.
From a very young age, I’ve tried to find a name that fits me…a name that resonates and fully embodies all that I am. Here was my opportunity to legally do that, in the Jewish sense. But, I was stumped. Where does one begin when everything is possible?
“Start by looking at women in the Tanakh that you admire,” my rabbi suggested. “Figure out why you admire them, then see if any of those names resonate with you.”
Three hours later, I was no better off. I couldn’t believe how few women there were in the stories I’ve known since childhood. Fewer still who resonated with me on any level. So many I saw as being manipulative (Sarah, Hagar, Rachel, Jezebel, Delilah), or manipulated (Leah, Rachel, Hannah), or strictly sexual (Dinah, Lot’s daughters, Potipher‘s wife), were slaves (Esther, Deborah, or most women), or were masculine in their aggression (Deborah, Jael), or had a victim complex (Naomi, Ruth). Very few were recognized as being leaders…women of power and respect…admired by both men and women.
It was then I realized that I was looking for a woman who is powerful…not because she takes power from others, and not because she emulates men. I was looking for a woman who is powerful in her own right…without trampling on others to get there. A woman who is wise and discerning…able to navigate both the feminine and masculine with equal ease, grace and diplomacy. I didn’t know any women who did this expertly…I certainly had no idea how to do this. But, I realized that is the woman I wanted to become…the woman I wanted my name to reflect…the name to guide and foretell my future.
Again. I realize. I’m here again…concerned with women and power, like I’m some sort of feminist. Am I a feminist? What exactly is a feminist?
I had never thought of myself as a Feminist, and in that moment, I realized that I was ashamed to be considered a Feminist. I was ashamed because I knew so many men who rail against Feminists and all that they stand for…I didn’t want to be automatically dismissed by these men in my social circles simply because I cared about my role as a woman.
Do I agree with these men? Why don’t I like Feminists?
I then realized that I have a hard time with forcefulness…in either men or women. So, when Feminists become forceful and masculine in their approach, I turn away. From that perspective, I could understand why some men push back so hard…a masculine energy is pushing against itself because it’s coming from an unnatural source…a woman.
I realized I was torn…grateful, on the one hand, to those who fought and continue to fight for my rights as a woman, but embarrassed, on the other hand, that the fight is so graceless…masked unnecessarily in masculine power, and so lacking in true feminine power. I realized, I didn’t want to be considered one of Them…but I also realized that my desire for true feminine power would inevitably lump me in. Perhaps I can be a part of a new kind of Feminism…even though I have absolutely no idea what this looks like.
My rabbi chuckled…again.
“You really do break all molds. And, it’s so very refreshing.”
“Really?!” I’m genuinely surprised. He, a man, is not put off by my perspectives! Maybe there’s something to this!
Together we explore the Tanakh for examples of these feminine qualities I seek…nebulous qualities because I don’t really know what they are, but are provable by their circumstances and results…a gentler, kinder, collaborative way…without losing or compromising self.
Eventually, we finalize on two names:
Aviva: Meaning “Spring” or “Awakening,” like the picture at the top. I took that picture after the devastating fire season of 2008-2009. The entire hillside was burnt black, with no plants in sight. However, a few months later, wildflowers thrived…awakening the earth after a purge. I wanted to awaken myself to a new way of being…a new way of seeing and blossoming that is feminine in nature. And, not only is the name a palindrome, it has symmetrical lines, lending it to being written beautifully…a feminine name.
Avigail: The Hebrew equivalent to Abigail. I choose it because of Abigail, who became David’s wife after the incident that caused their meeting. She utilized her feminine beauty, intelligence, wisdom, and wealth to gently, but firmly, intervene in a moment of crisis between her husband and David. She didn’t defer to her husband…she acted on her own, with planning and conviction. Neither did she employ aggressive tactics…rather, she employed her intelligence and insight into consequences and helped David choose the path that would take him where he really wanted to go. As a result, she averted a war between them, which could have severely damaged both her community and hindered David’s journey to the throne.
I’m proud, grateful, and satisfied to have found a name that finally reflects me. This isn’t necessarily who I am right now…nor is it who I will be tomorrow…or the next month or year. But, I will become this person…this is a name to grow into…a name to learn to embody. A name that will teach me and inspire me to step into my genuine feminine power.
- Am I a Bad Feminist? (agirlwithquestions.wordpress.com)
- “Why Don’t Feminists Ever Talk About Men?” On the Idea of Unbalanced Activism. (shadowscrescent.wordpress.com)
- I, Feminist (thisblogisaploy.blogspot.com)