Is It Ethical for Me to Use My First Name?

Photo © 2009 Helga Weber CC BY-ND 2.0

In preparation for my daughters’ bnot mitzvah, I’ve had to order several items from online Judaica stores.

When placing the latest order, I realized—in one of those flashes of the obvious that I had previously been blocking from my cognizance… I realized that I had been using my first name, Jonathan, because it’s a good, Hebrew name, even though I myself am not Jewish.

“Is it okay for me to enter ‘Jonathan’ as my first name?” I asked my Firstborn daughter.

“Jonathan is your first name,” she said.

“Yeah, but I don’t usually use it.”

“You use it on your bank accounts.”

“That’s only because their computer systems are too stupid to grasp the fact that everyone else in the world knows me by my middle name, Tim. I’m only using ‘Jonathan,’ because I don’t want them to know I’m not Jewish.”

“You mean because you want them to treat you special?”

“No, because I want them to treat me like they would any other customer.”

So what does this say about my perception of the average Jewish business? Oy!

In reality, they probably don’t care what my name is, as long as my payment clears. You can’t tell anything about a person’s Jewish heritage from his name, anyhow, not anymore. The only exceptions to this are, perhaps, the surnames Levi (Levin, Levine, etc.) and Kohen (Cohen, Cohn, etc.) All others are pretty much meaningless. Besides, what do they care who buys kippot and tallit clips? Obviously someone who is attending a synagogue or who wears a tallit.

Well… There are some Jews who might care. Especially if they knew I was a Gentile who had married a Jew and that we now attend a Messianic Jewish synagogue, which is a whole other, complex, nuanced issue that tends to get subsumed by various stereotypes.

And there’s the rub. There’s a lot of gunk flowing under this bridge, and I’m standing hip-deep in it myself.

So under the circumstances, is it ethical for me to use my real first name? Even though I would usually not do so?