Ursus arctos middendorffi /kodiak bear/ Kodiakbär
Image via Wikipedia

Today’s choice sounds like a peaceful bird, but he’s actually borrowed from a fiercer beast.

Thanks to Abbey for suggesting one she’s considering for baby #2! Our Baby Name of the Day is Dov.

Short,single-syllable names for boys have risen in recent years, from antique revivals like Max and Gus to newer discoveries like Jett and Dax.

Dov doesn’t fit in either category – he’s a Hebrew name derived from the word for bear. His pronunciation isn’t quite like Dove; instead, he’s somewhere between dohv and dahv.

There are bunches of notable Dovs, most of them Israeli or with family ties to Israel, including:

  • American Apparel founder Dov Charney. On the plus side, he’s a fearless innovator, known for stylish, simple clothes manufactured right in the heart of Los Angeles. On the downside, he’s pretty controversial;
  • On a brainier note, Dov Tamari was an influential mathematician;
  • In Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, Eli Roth makes a cameo as a character called Dov;
  • Leon Uris gave the name to a teenaged Auschwitz survivor in his book, Exodus. The character’s anger made for a contrast with his peaceful-sounding name.

I was about to characterize Dov as a relatively modern name, but then I came across an early eighteenth century rabbi, an early leader of Hasidic Judaism, called Dov.
My first thought was that Dov was an adopted name – after all, Dov Tamari changed his name after moving to Palestine as a young man.

Instead, Dov was born Dov Ber – literally, Bear Bear. It turns out that’s not a mistake. The future rabbi was born in what is today the Ukraine. I couldn’t find data specific to the Ukraine at the time of his birth, but it sounds like the double naming practice was intentionally repetitive and not uncommon.

Dov is unusual – never in the US Top 1000 – but not unheard of in the US today. The comments at A Mother in Israel suggest that Dov would be more popular with Orthodox Jews, but not necessarily for any specific reason.

The real question, I think, is whether Dov is fair use for families without Jewish heritage. With his nature name link, he seems more approachable that some uncommon choices – “Dov is Hebrew for bear” seems as sensible an explanation as “Abigail means ‘my father is joy’ in Hebrew.” Plus, his short, ends-in-v sound is edgy, interesting, and current.

If you’re looking for an unusual Hebrew name that wears easily in twenty-first century America, I think Dov could be the right pick.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I went to high school with a Teresa Cohen. Not sure if she was a product of intermarriage, although there are Catholic Cohens.

  2. I know quite a few Jewish people called Christopher or Renee, which always strikes me as slightly odd, but nobody else seems to think so! Maybe it’s the same with Christians called Dov – only that rare person will think it odd.

    1. The intersection of religion and ethnicity (for non-Christian Westerners in particular) can make for some head-scratching in the name department. Your comment reminds me of this article:

      “Long locked out of the WASP social and commercial institutions…well-to-do Jews in America, where possible, formed their own counterpart institutions, apart from the Ivy League schools. A younger generation has now taken to giving their children WASPy first names, so that today one runs into such comic nomenclatural pairings as Tyler Ginsberg, Mackenzie Rosenthal, Hunter Fefferman, Kelly Rabinowicz and other such preposterosities.”

      I get the same raised eyebrows when I talk names with family and friends. “But you can’t name a Muslim child Henry/Edmund/Georgina/etc.!”

      I get the same flack from friends and family when I suggest names like Georginalkjsdlkj

      1. I can get bland and WASPY, like Alison and Greg – I just find specifically Christian names (like Christopher and Renee) on non-Christians a tad unusual. However, it just seems to be me, so I would say, just go for it, as nobody else seems to be bothered.

        (This isn’t a younger generation either – these are people older than me, and probably technically old enough to be my parents).

        1. I know a Jewish Christine, and yup – I wondered about it for months before I realized she was an adult convert.

  3. I do think there’s something different about using the Hebrew of a Biblical name, like Shoshanna, and then using a name that’s just Hebrew, like Dov. To me, the latter feels more like using a name that you don’t have any cultural connection to. I think it really just depends on the name. I agree with Julie, Tova and Ari seem like much fairer game than Hillel or Shmuley.

    This post is making me rethink the viability/wearability of one of my absolute favorite Hebrew names, Raanan. Hmm, at least Dov is pronounceable 😉