About A Name: Aleph

October 25, 2011 § 2 Comments

(c) Ramey: Natalie Portman introduced son Aleph last week.

It’s not really a surprise that Natalie Portman gave birth to a gorgeous baby. Son Aleph (pronounced AH-lef), with French ballet dancer/model Benjamin Millpied, was born in June in New York City, and his unique name is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, much like “alpha” is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. Also spelled “alef,” it is the number one in Hebrew . In Judaic Kabbalah, aleph relates to the origins of the universe, the “primordial one that contains all numbers.” (In Tony Kushner’s Tony-winning play, Angels in America, God is depicted onstage as a flaming Aleph glyph.)

It’s been one of the most unique celebrity baby names of the year, and almost no one has truly faulted the Israeli-American actress for the thought that went into her name selection (Aleph means one or first in relation to the Hebrew language, and may also mean “leader;” Portman delivered her first child), even if it’s not a name most people would choose to use themselves. It’s easy to get used to, as well, with it’s visual and phonetic similarities to common male names like Jeff, Joseph, or Alex.

Though aleph is an ancient word, it has found very minimal use as a first name in Israel and beyond, much like people of English backgrounds aren’t inclined to use One or Three as a baby name. (Off topic: Did you know that the letter H is spelled aitch? Scripps National Spelling Bee taught me that one; the poor kid didn’t have a clue.) Aleph is more appropriate for someone like Portman, whose son will grow up primarily in the US and France, where the word isn’t in common, everyday use.

But the name isn’t likely to catch on in Japan, where Aleph is the new name of the Aum Shinrikyo, a new religious movement responsible for carrying out a Sarin gas attack at a Tokyo train station in 1995 (but that’s probably not the only reason it wouldn’t catch on, -ph doesn’t exist in Japanese vocabulary). Aum Shinrikyo/Aleph is a syncretic (combination) belief system that incorporates founder Shoko Asahara’s idiosyncratic interpretations of Yoga with facets of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and the writings of Nostradamus. Ultimately, Asahara outlined a doomsday prophecy, which included a World War III instigated by the United States. Asahara described a final conflict culminating in a nuclear “Armageddon”, borrowing the term from the Book of Revelation. Humanity would end, except for the elite few who joined Aum. Aum’s mission was not only to spread the word of “salvation”, but also to survive these “End Times”. Asahara predicted Armageddon would occur in 1997.He named the United States as “The Beast” from the Book of Revelation, predicting it would eventually attack Japan.

There’s bound to be at least a small bump in the popularity of this name, but I’m not certain how quickly it’s going to catch on, and probably more convinced that this name will rise and quickly fall again. If it can happen to Shiloh (which I thought was destined for Top 100 status, honestly) then it will happen to Aleph. It has such a precise meaning that is so perfectly suited to Portman that it will be difficult for the average person to relate.

See Also: Number Names


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