renaming because of illness

Dave Hause dwhause at JOBE.NET
Sun Aug 1 03:35:44 UTC 2010

Several years ago a friend (New Yorker, of Israeli immigrant parents,
originally Syrian exiles) told me her family had renamed itself "Eilat" for
luck (thanks to God?) after her father's brother was almost killed in a
battle at Eilat.
Dave Hause, dwhause at
Waynesville, MO
----- Original Message -----
From: "Cohen, Gerald Leonard" <gcohen at MST.EDU>
Sent: Saturday, July 31, 2010 12:46 PM
Subject: Re: renaming because of illness

I've unsuccessfully tried several times to send this reply to the American
Name Society (where the initial request was posted by Mr. Fielding; see
below), and will now try ads-l.

Gerald Cohen


Years ago I remember reading a book about Jewish names (I no longer remember
the author or title, but with some searching it should be locatable), which
told that a Jew who was very ill and in fear of dying might change his name
so that when the Angel of Death came looking for him, the Angel would be
confused and unable to find him.  A favorite tactic was to change one's name
to "Chaim" (life), which would particularly throw the Angel of Death off the
right path, since the Angel was looking for someone very sick.

In this regard, I also remember reading that devils too could be outwitted
(Devils were believed to be evil, of course, but they were also incredibly
stupid. Noise could frighten them off too.)  It seems that the Angel of
Death (not a devil but not a favorable being either) fit into the
superstitious category of troubling beings who can be outwitted.

The Jewish language discussion group would no doubt be able to provide more
information on this.  Also, when Mr. Fielding finishes his study (and no
longer needs to keep his information confidential), it would be very good if
he could share whatever he feels is appropriate with this ans-l list.

Gerald Cohen


From: American Name Society on behalf of Russell Fielding
Sent: Sat 7/31/2010 8:42 AM
Subject: renaming because of illness


I'm a Ph.D. student in cultural geography at LSU working on a project
completely unrelated to naming.  However, in my reading I've come across
several unrelated cases of people changing their names, or having their
names changed, in response to illness.  These are from widely separate
geographical regions.  In many cases, the renaming was done on the advice of
a spiritual leader, and often on the belief that the renaming would cause
some sort of confusion for the 'spirit' or other source of the illness, thus
allowing the patient to make a 'fresh start'.

I would like to ask if anyone on this list knows anything about this
phenomenon.  I'm interested to learn anything I can about it.  So far, I
have found only isolated references to specific renamings, never a compiled
overview of the concept.  I am interested to find other case examples and
also any theoretical approach or explanation of the concept.  I'm happy to
share the few cases I've compiled with anyone who is interested.  Thank you
very much for your time and attention.

Russell Fielding
rfield2 at

Russell Fielding
Department of Geography and Anthropology
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA

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