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What’s in a[n Israeli] name?

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Several In Custodia Legis team members have previously written about regulation of naming in a variety of countries, including GermanyIceland ; New Zealand; Sweden; and Taiwan. I thought it would be interesting to see how Israel, my primary research jurisdiction, regulates names.

מגילת רות / Scroll of Ruth
Silkscreen plates (2004), with permission to publish by the artist Tamar Messer. BS1312 .M47 2004b Hebr Cage, courtesy of the Africa Middle East Division of the Library of Congress.

The Most Popular Israeli Names (Good to Know Ruth is not Completely Outdated)

Checking Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics for 2015, it appears that 707 names were registered for Jewish girls with the biblical name Noa  as the most popular name. My name, Ruth, was no. 29! Although trailing Noa by 28 spots, and considering the name Ruth (like Noa and many others on the list) dates back to biblical times, I am glad it is still in the running.  In 2015, 583 names were registered for Jewish boys, with the name Noam as the number one favorite (Noam connotes very positive attributes of pleasantness, charm, and tenderness); 567 for Muslim girls with the name Miryam (in reference to the Virgin Mary) as the most popular; and 373 for Muslim boys with the name Muhamad as the most popular name.

ברית יצחק Brit Yitzhak (the circumcision of Isaac) Amsterdam, 1772BM705 .B474 1767 Hebr Cage, courtesy of the Africa Middle East Division of the Library of Congress

Considering the large number of different names selected by Israeli parents for their babies, and authorized for registration by Israeli authorities in 2015, I wondered if there any names that are not allowed to be registered in Israel.

Are There Any Names Not Allowed?

Under the Names Law, 5716-1956, Sefer HaHukim (Book of Laws, official gazette) 5716 No. 207 p. 94, as amended, parents generally have a right to determine their child’s first name. The child usually gets his or her parents’ last name, with different rules applying when the parents have different last names. (Id. §§3-4).  An adult has the right to change his/her first or last name. (Id. §10).

The Minister of Interior, however, is authorized to invalidate a name that under his/her opinion is likely to mislead, violate public policy or offend public feelings. (Id. §16)

Is Changing or Adding the Last Name of an Unmarried Life- Partner Potentially Misleading?

A name will not be invalidated only “because it was selected due to a connection between [those] known to the public [as married].” (Id., referring to cohabitation relationship that is not recognized in Israel as a valid marriage, although might qualify for eligibility for various social and economic benefits).  For information on “legal alternatives” to marriage in Israel, see my report, Israel: Spousal Agreements for Couples Not Belonging to Any Religion—A Civil Marriage Option? (September 2015).

As with name change reflective of cohabitation, the last name of children of such relationships may also include both partners’ names. Moreover, in a February 2017 decision the Tel Aviv family court allowed parents to add the last name of the father’s same- sex partner to their twin girls’ last names, previously composed of the parents’ two last names. (See File No. 21360-07-16 Ezrati v. the Attorney General (decision rendered by Tel Aviv District Court on 02/15/17), available at the Nevo Legal Database (in Hebrew, by subscription).

Is changing a name from a masculine to a feminine name or vice versa following gender change authorized?

Yes, it is. Persons who went through a gender change procedure, with or without surgery, may register their gender change at the Register of Population and also change their name to a name reflective of their new gender. Registration of gender change involving surgery requires, among others, approval by the treating physician in Israel and by public committee appointed by the Ministry of Health that the gender change has been completed. Certification by the committee that the change was completed without surgery will be required otherwise.

How Often May One Change a Name?

Under the Names Law, once every seven years, except with the approval of the Minister of Interior. In other words, don’t do it lightly!

Can You Completely Erase Your Past When You Change Your Name?

No. Although it seems that Israel applies relatively liberal policy regarding names selection, registration of a name in identity cards issued to Israeli residents at age 16 and older must indicate name changes and include any name previously held by the holder in parenthesis. A request to erase the former name of an applicant from his newly issued identity card was therefore rejected by the Haifa District Court in its 2003 decision in the case of Haddad v. State of Israel (see e.g. CA 1018/91 Haddad v. State of Israel, decision rendered 3/14/93, Nevo Legal Database, id.).

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