Rav Avigdor Miller on Gentile Names in Jewish History

Q: The Rav has told us many times about the importance of using our Jewish names and about the greatness of לא שינו את שמם. Then why is it that we find so many Greek names and other gentile names of great men in the Talmud?

A: And the answer is this. Nobody ever gave a gentile name to his child. But we have to realize that in ancient times there were a tremendous number of converts, of גרי צדק, of very high quality. And in the olden days, it was not the custom for a גר to change his or her name. Today we change the gentile name to Avrohom or something else like that. But that wasn’t always the case in every community. מונבז remained מונבז. And מונבז became a תנא and in one place we even find him arguing with רבי עקיבא. He was that great. But he was still מונבז. So, many of these גרי צדק kept their names.

Now, many of these גרי צדק became great tzadikim. They were men who illuminated the Jewish world with their wisdom. אונקלוס הגר! That’s a gentile name. אונקלוס is a gentile name. They didn’t change his name. אונקלוס! It’s in the Chumash. He’s even higher up on the page than Rashi. Rashi brings אונקלוס as a proof. He’s on top of Rashi, right next to the Chumash. And they never changed his name.

So if in some later generation, someone wanted to honor that גר, and someone wanted to give his child the זכות, the merit, of being called after that great man, so he gave him that name. And that’s how we got those names. Those names came from the גרים and from those who were named after them. And of course, some of the names in the גמרא are just nicknames – corruptions of Jewish names.

But nobody decent in the ancient times named his child after a gentile or gave his child a gentile name. They were proud of who they were.
TAPE # 75