A Jamaican named Hannukkah?

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The famous Jamaican bobsled team is here in British Columbia to train, suitable facilities in Jamaica being somewhat lacking. I was surprised to learn that one of the bobsledders is named Hannukkah Wallace. Not only are few Jamaicans Jewish, but Hanukkah, though a Jewish word, is not normally used as a name. Does anyone know how he got this name?

[Update: I've emended his name to "Hannukkah" in response to Language Hat's comment.]


  1. Coby Lubliner said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 3:34 pm

    His parents may have picked it because they liked the sound. What's funny is that if you click on his name here, you get sent here.

  2. Sili said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 3:35 pm

    Perhaps he's the light of any party – even those that last a week.

  3. Steven said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 3:52 pm

    Pure conjecture here, but it doesn't seem entirely surprising, given the cultural influence of the Rastafari movement in Jamaica (I think adherents constitute something like 8% or the population). It's not a huge leap from the incorporation of Hebrew scripture/mythos into the Rastafari narrative to the adoption of Jewish terms in naming custom, even if those terms aren't typically (or ever) used as given names among Jewish people themselves.

  4. Devon Strolovitch said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 4:29 pm

    I'm not sure what I think of the description of "Hanukkah" as a "Jewish", rather than Hebrew, word.

  5. Lang Martin said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

    my understanding is that Rastifarianism is has roughly the same relationship to Judaism that Christianity does, theologically. Here's wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rastafarianism. I don't know for sure, but that suggests a more mainstream Jamaican origin.

  6. language hat said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 4:54 pm

    Just to be picky, his given name is spelled Hannukkah.

  7. Bill Poser said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 5:23 pm

    Devon Strolovitch

    I characterized "Hanukkah" as a "Jewish" word rather than a "Hebrew" word because it is not only Hebrew but is the name of a specifically Jewish holiday. Or is what is bothering you that you use "Jewish" to mean "Yiddish" as some people do?

    Language Hat.
    This news article spells his name "Hanukkah".

    I though of the Rastafarian connection, but as far as I can tell it isn't a Rasta practice to use the name "Han(n)ukkah", and Wallace doesn't look like a Rasta, though I suppose that his parents might have been.

  8. language hat said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 6:06 pm

    News articles that spell his name Hannukkah: 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., etc. And my prize exhibit: the official bobsled team site.

  9. dveej said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 6:34 pm

    I don't know – never have seen any other examples of such a given name.
    Think I'll ask my black American friend Thess (that's his nickname; it's short for First Thessalonians) if he's ever heard such.

  10. Rubrick said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 6:54 pm

    This reminds me that I should dig out my old Tisha B'Av Marley LPs.

  11. Tom Recht said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 7:37 pm

    I've never heard of anyone named Hanukkah, but Pesach (Passover) is a not uncommon male given name in Israel, though unfashionable these days. Maybe his parents were aware of this and extended the practice to a different holiday?

  12. Bill Poser said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 7:52 pm

    Language Hat,

    Okay, so I guess it is "Hannukkah".

    Tom Recht,

    Could be, though I wouldn't think that a lot of Jamaicans would know about Jewish naming practices.

  13. Bobbie said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 9:30 pm

    A quick search at Ancestry.com yields several people named Hanukkah, living in South Carolina, England, and one born in Los Angeles…. So why not in Jamaica?
    Does he has siblings named for other Jewish holidays? Or did his parents just like the sound of the word?
    I recently met a young man whose father named him Stalin, and his brother Darling, because he liked the sounds of the words!

  14. Russell said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 10:18 pm

    I had never heard the name Hanukkah until this week. I'm reading Michael Chabon's "Gentlemen of the Road," which includes a character by that name.

  15. Vid said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 10:42 pm

    I have lived in Jamaica since I was sixteen, and this doesn't seem remotely out of the ordinary to me. Jamaicans are often very creative with their names, and usually very religious, regardless of which faith they adhere to. However, in this case, it would not surprise me at all to learn that his parents simply liked the sound, and/or thought that associating their child with a time of celebration was a good thing.

    Or they wanted to name him Christmas, but found that when the Coca-Cola corporation purchased Christmas (back in the fifties) it retained the exclusive rights to all things related thereto, and that had they named him Christmas, he would have become the exclusive property of Coca-Cola Merchandising, Inc., which would have put a strain on the bobsled's team's relations with its sponsers (this scenario would of course necessitate his parents having almost prophet-like foresight).

  16. Östen Dahl said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 12:55 am

    According to Wikipedia, "Hanukkah or Chanukkah ben Obadiah was a Khazar ruler who probably reigned during the mid to late ninth century CE". So there exists a fairly old precedent for using it as a name.

  17. DD said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 3:56 am

    Though it is probable the given name is really Hannukkah, this might be the place to note that 'Hanukka' is more like the proper transliteration — no final h (חֲנֻכָּה, not חֲנֻכָּהּ: i.e., the final he is just a mater lectionis and never used to be pronounced, to the best of my knowledge). The modern pronunciation ignores gemination.

  18. Martin Parkinson said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 4:24 am

    There used to be a British judge, (also known for writing a book about Buddhism), whose name was Christmas Humphreys. Perhaps this just displaces the problem (why would you call your son Christmas?), but even so I still find Hanukkah as a forename is no stranger than that.

  19. Russell said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 5:53 am

    I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned that Hanukkah, the holiday name, translates as "dedication," since the holiday celebrates the re-dedication of the holy temple. Not unreasonable for a name.

    I've attended a "Hannukah HaBayit" (sorry for my bad transliteration and Hebrew grammar), the dedication of a Jewish home, culminating in placing a Mezuzah (holy scroll) on the doorframe.

    WIkipedia has a nice discussion of the name and its other possible meanings:

    Off topic, but I just gotta say that those Maccabees were a pretty foul bunch of reactionary fundamentalist fanatics.

  20. Russell said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 5:54 am

    Martin – I haven't known any Christmases, but I've known more than one Noel.

  21. Jon Weinberg said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 6:40 am

    Östen Dahl: Ah, but the Khazar rulers — unlike all but a very small number of modern Jamaicans — were Jewish.

  22. Jorge said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 7:18 am

    Natividad is also used as a name in Spanish

  23. Dave Ferguson said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 7:34 am

    As a holiday gift to Russell, "Asterix and the Cauldron" features the fictional Roman, Crismus Bonus.

  24. Michael said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 8:56 am

    On Russell's off-topic ("those Maccabees were a pretty foul bunch of reactionary fundamentalist fanatics"): Isn't that a little rash?

    But to leave politics: I was amused to find that macabre comes from Maccabee…

  25. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 10:41 am

    A fun little parlor trick to try on people named Noel (and maybe it works better when their name is Holly; it's more subtle then) is to say "I bet you're a Capricorn, aren't you?"

    Don't do it right after they tell you their name, because then it's too obvious.

    There are of course many exceptions, but I believe it works significantly more than one twelfth of the time.

    Noel Redding was born on December 25th, but Noel Coward's birthday was nine days earlier so I suppose he actually missed being a Capricorn.

    For the record, I don't even like astrology, but I do like gimmicks and trivia facts.

  26. Mark A. Mandel said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 10:45 am

    Jorge: Good point, but it's "Navidad".

  27. Cephi said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 10:46 am

    He got his name by way of his parents naming him that. It seems strange to me to take one person's name as calling for some sort of broad cultural explanation.

  28. Richard Hershberger said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 11:08 am

    There formerly was in English a middlin'-common practice of feast-day names with given names like "Christmas" or "Pentecost". Most of these feast-day names are now very rare, and sometimes the etymology is not immediately obvious. In the unlikely event that you meet a "Pascoe" the connection to Easter is not likely to spring immediately to mind. The practice has largely died out, with "Noel" being the surviving vestige. (The Catholic practice of naming after saints based on the child's birtday is another story, of course.) Another survivor, though without the feast-day connection being remembered, is "Tiffany": Really. No kidding. This makes sense if you know that an old name for the feast of the Epiphany is the Greek "Theophania".

  29. Yuval P said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 11:48 am

    Though not a common name in current Israel, Hanukka (I agree with this transliteration: the n is not geminated in modern nor templaic Hebrew; the h is not to be pronounciated in either but rather acts as an orthographic aesthetic accessory) is not an odd surname.
    Also, an icon of Israeli trash-pop culture ("Burekas films") is named Khakham Hanukka ("Hanukka the wise"), an imbecile portrayed by Ze'ev Revakh. This is a very well-known character, making the given name not too weird-sounding to us natives.

  30. Ben Teague said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 12:12 pm

    I know a young (30s) woman named Christmas. When she introduces herself she tends to look just past your shoulder, as if anticipating a question she's heard before.

  31. Ray Girvan said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 12:20 pm

    And of course Epiphany itself is a female name.

  32. Lazar said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 2:24 pm

    @Richard Hershberger: I was surprised to find out yesterday that the dynastic name "Tudor" was derived from "Theodoros", apparently with an intermediate Welsh form "Tewdwr".

  33. mollymooly said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 2:41 pm

    "The Catholic practice of naming after saints based on the child's birtday is another story, of course."

    Is it another story or the same story? There are given names corresponding to feast days other than saints' days: Toussaint Louverture (Nov. 1); Concepción Montaner (Dec. 8); Innocente Alessandri (Dec. 28) etc. In any case, the name day is not the birthday; in many countries it was a more important anniversary than the birthday till recent global culture homogenization.

  34. David Eddyshaw said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 3:54 pm

    There is a Christmas Disease (more boringly, Haemophilia B) which is the only disease I know of named after the patient who had it rather than the doctor.
    (Surname however)

  35. David Eddyshaw said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 4:11 pm

    Traditional Ashanti/Fanti/Akwapem personal names (in Ghana) are all derived from the day of the week on which one is born, seven male and seven slightly different female names.


    (I'm Kojo).

    As Ashanti middle and last names are also drawn from closed sets of clan names, it's easy to write a program to generate all possible Ashanti traditional names.

    Muslims in Northern Ghana [but not traditional African religion adherents, among whom the seven-day week is not much used at all] often use Hausa day-of-the week names, eg

    Talaata, girl born on Tuesday.
    Azuma, chap born on Friday

    It's not at all unusual in Northern Ghana for someone to know the day of the week he was born on but not the year of his birth. My statement when discussing this with some Northern Muslims, that many Europeans don't know what day of the week they were born on, was greeted with incredulity.

  36. Sniffnoy said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 7:01 pm

    Well, there's also Lou Gehrig's Disease.

  37. Dan T. said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 8:13 pm

    There's a singer named Ashanti, which probably sounds weird to members of the actual Ashanti tribe, for whom "Ashanti" is not one of the traditional first names.

  38. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 8:32 pm

    Suzanne Somers' "Chrissy" on Three's Company had the full name Christmas Noelle Snow. Of course, that's just a fictional character. Within the universe of the show, she may have been born in either December or January (details provided by the characters contradict each other).

  39. Kimball Kramer said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 9:35 pm

    Natalie, Natasha, and other variants suggest an original meaning of "born in the Christmas season" or "on Christmas".

  40. Kimball Kramer said,

    December 18, 2008 @ 8:59 am

    Tiffany from Epiphany may have arisen by the same mechanism that brought us Audrey from tawdrey and Ned from Edward.

  41. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    December 18, 2008 @ 11:17 am

    And speaking of fictional characters on TV, Ned Flanders' full first name is "Nedward".

  42. hannukkah ander alexie wallace said,

    December 18, 2008 @ 12:16 pm

    this is hannukah from jamaica and my name was given to me by my mother i dont know where did she get it from. but i look at it has a nice name and i will name my little baby girl shannukkah her is amika wallace.

  43. Vincent Daly said,

    December 18, 2008 @ 4:57 pm

    Jum'a, Friday (the Muslim day of communal prayer), is a pretty common masculine name in parts of the Muslim world, as are Ramadhan, Rajab, and Shaa'aban (months of religious significance). And 'Idi must have been originally been for boys born at the time of the 'Id al Adha, the feast of sacrifice, or the other 'Id at the end of Ramadhan.

    And then there's Tuesday Weld, and Nicole Kidman's new daughter Sunday, born on a Monday if memory serves.

  44. richard said,

    December 18, 2008 @ 8:30 pm

    I met quite a number of people with interesting names in eastern Indonesia. My three favorites: Libur Selasa (Vacation [on] Tuesday), Rencana (Planned, and no, he didn't have an older brother named Belum–I asked), and of course Jimmy Carter (a girl, need I say?). Out there one also finds, with some frequency, Muslims bearing Christian names (Andy, for example) and Christians with Muslim names (Aisha).

  45. Merri said,

    December 19, 2008 @ 9:48 am

    The practice of giving your child the name of the day's Saint is rather common in Western Indies – also in French or Dutch parts.
    Now you want to do this, and unfrtunately it's a girl's name. What woud you do ? Why not turn to some other calendar ?
    This leads un to the question, what's the guy's birth date ?

    This practice has given birth (if I dare say) to strange first names, like Immaculécon (litt. 'pure white fool'), because the calendar's line was too short to mention in full 'Immaculée Conception' .

    Notice that, in general, holy day names can be given to persons born in any part of the year. In French, you can be named Noël(le) or Pascal(e) and be born anytime.

    Also notice that the Spanish name Conception isn't linked to the date, but to an attribute of the Virgin, like Dolores or Pilar.

  46. language hat said,

    December 19, 2008 @ 11:05 am

    My favorite name of that sort is O, for "S. Maria de la O," so called because on the Feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on December 18 "the clerics in the choir after Vespers used to utter a loud and protracted 'O', to express the longing of the universe for the coming of the Redeemer."

  47. dennis said,

    December 19, 2008 @ 3:25 pm

    His complete name is: get this: Hannukah Alexi Andrei Sherone Wallace. Hows that for leadership and notoriety. A name of destiny: we wish him and the team well.

  48. Mark A. Mandel said,

    December 21, 2008 @ 10:44 pm

    I sent this link to a friend who is Jamaican-born. She replies:

    I like the Rastafarian explanation; also, I've known some Jamaicans to study (tiny bits of) Judaism to inform their studies of Christianity. I wonder if he has an uncle who is a pastor, for instance.

  49. DD said,

    December 22, 2008 @ 1:41 am

    @Yuval P: Well, 'xaxam xanuka' is pronounced with penultimate stress (instaed of the normal ultimate stress), which easily renders it a proper name — if the stress were on the ultima, it would be a normal construct state ('sage of Xanuka', broadly translating). This is an interesting function of stress in Modern Hebrew, but even thus, I wouldn't say it wouldn't be weird as a given name.

  50. Lola said,

    December 22, 2008 @ 10:59 am

    I don't think it's that complicated. The Caribbean is known for making up names or coming up with names that just 'sound good' despite the meaning that these may have. For example, in the Dominican Republic it is not uncommon to find a Hitler Rodriguez, a Platon Rivera, a Mussolini Hernandez or an Aristoteles Gonzalez; in Puerto Rico a couple of years after the arrival of the US post office, some kids were named: Usmail (Perez), which is pronounced /usmail/; and in Cuba combining the mother's name with the father's name produces innovative names such as Rafiris (Rafael + Iris).

  51. Fred said,

    December 23, 2008 @ 5:30 pm

    The Jewish holiday of Passover is pronounced in Hebrew as Paysach, which is a fairly common first name in Israel, as somebody mentioned. There's a very well known rabbi named Paysach Krohn.

  52. Fred said,

    December 23, 2008 @ 5:40 pm


    The Maccabees fought back as best they could against coerced and sometimes forced conversion out of Judaism into the Greek paganism of the time. Do you think they should have gone pagan instead?

  53. Russell said,

    December 30, 2008 @ 12:21 am

    Well, this is WAY off topic, and I've been gone for a while, but it's pretty clear from my reading of the mix of myth and history that is the story of Chanukah, that the Maccabees were less about fighting the Greek imperialosm (i.e. Greek cultural proxies the Seleucids) than about fighting (and killing) Jews where were acting a little too Greek. Jews a lot like modern Reform and Conservative Jews. That would be assimilated Jews — people a lot like me.

    …and when they won, they forcibly converted, and forcibly circumcised, the other folks living in the area.

    Nice discussion here:


    and here:


    Give me Pesach ANY day!

  54. Dreamy said,

    February 12, 2010 @ 11:59 pm

    I know this is awfully late, but since my husband actually trained with Hanukkah Wallace on the ice, I thought I'd add my 2 cents. I find it kind of offensive that people would conjecture black folks would just (generally) randomly name a person something they thought "sounded pretty" and that such was the most likely explanation. I actually know more than one Jamaican Jew, so there's always that. My husband said he did not know if Hanukkah was Jewish, but he pronounced it "Ha-NOO-kuh."

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