Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Rivka
Rivka, sometimes rendered as Rivkah, is the Hebrew form of Rebecca (רִבְקָה). The root origin and etymological meaning is up for debate. Some sources claim Rivka comes from the Hebrew “ribhqeh” meaning “connection, to join”, while others have claimed it means “to bind, trap” (in the sense of cattle “tied” to a stall, or a “fatted calf”). Our favorite meaning for Rivka (and thus Rebecca) is “captivating” perhaps from some other Semitic root origin. The name Rebecca (Rivka) is borne from the Bible as the wife of Isaac and the mother of Jacob and Esau. As such, she is a prominent matriarchal figure in the future tribes of Israel and thus a favorite name among Jewish people (like Sarah and Rachel). In Genesis 24, we learn that Abraham does not want his son Isaac to marry a local Canaanite woman so he sends his servant to find a wife in Abraham’s own ancestral land of Haran in upper Mesopotamia. The servant is skeptical at the prospect of success, doubtful that a woman will follow him back to Canaan, but Abraham assures the servant that God will assist in this endeavor. Abraham assures his servant that if the woman who is to become Isaac’s wife does not follow the servant back of her own accord, then Abraham absolves him of all responsibility. Upon arrival in the city of Nahor in Mesopotamia, the servant beholds Rivka/Rebecca: “The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known.” [Genesis 24:16]. Rebecca graciously offers the servant water for himself and his camels, thus fulfilling his prayer to the Lord that she must be “the one”. After negotiations with her family and the customary offering of gifts, it comes down to Rebecca’s decision to follow the servant back to Canaan to marry Isaac. Her words are simple: “I will go.” So she’s not exactly “snared and trapped” as one of the etymological origins might suggest; quite the contrary. The name’s other possible meaning (i.e., “captivating”) makes more sense for this beautiful, compassionate and kind young maiden. As the grandmother of the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Jacob’s sons), Rivka also symbolizes a sense of “connection”. Compared with Rebecca, Rivka is a far less common rendering of this Biblical matriarch; at least in terms of naming traditions in the Western World. In fact it’s downright rare.