Simcha Bunim/simkhe-bunim

When I first created the Yiddish Batman meme, I had to come up with a ‘Jewish’ name for Batman.


Robin: What is your Jewish name, Batman?
Batman: Call me *Mr* Batman, Boy Wonder.
And my Jewish name is Simcha Bunim.

I don’t now remember the exact thought process that eventuated in “Simcha Bunim,” other than that I wanted something that would sound a bit comic. (Apologies to anyone whose name actually is Simcha Bunim.) I see now, for reasons briefly mooted here, that I may have taken a first, tottering step towards vicious stereotyping at that point. The question of the meme’s relation to stereotyping is something I have now incorporated discussion of in the commentary on the meme. I was greatly helped on my way to this end by my ‘irascible’ expert (introduced here and further mentioned here). Truth be told, he came to the conclusion that my meme, in the light of the commentary (of which he saw an earlier, unreconstructed version), was “repulsive”! (You can see I am still processing the trauma of this.)

But the point of the present post is not to linger on that calamity, but to express my amazement at just how much there has been to say about the name “Simcha Bunim.” I wonder if I just got lucky and picked a name that raised so many interesting issues, or whether any name would have yielded comparable riches.


a) The origins of “Bunim” are unclear but there are a variety of interesting speculations.

b) The reasons for the frequent pairing of “Simcha” and “Bunim” are unclear on some etymologies of “Bunim”; but one etymology provides a charming, if fanciful, explanation for the pairing.

c) But just how standard is the pairing? And how does each of the names function when not paired? And how has the pairing varied across time and place? One 17th century source takes the pairing as somehow expected, but then goes on to say that in fact most Bunims are not Simcha Bunims.

d) Which language does each name belong to? (And, prior to that, do names belong to languages at all, or is one of the thing that distinguishes proper names from words that they are not parts of specific languages?) “Simcha” is originally a Hebrew name, but is it also a Yiddish name? (And simultaneously, perhaps, also a Ladino [Judeo-Spanish] name, if used by speakers of Ladino?) Or a Hebrew name used by Yiddish speakers? Are there many homophonic names “Simcha” or just one? “Bunim,” on one etymology, is a contraction of a Hebrew name, but on another, derives from French. In that case, is it a French name? A French name used by Yiddish speakers? A Yiddish name?

e) And how do the answers to the questions in d) affect what language “Simcha Bunim” is in? If there is one language each is a name in, say Yiddish, does that automatically mean the compound is in Yiddish?

f) How should “Simcha” be spelled in Yiddish? As a Hebrew name, it is spelled שמחה, but Yiddish orthographers disagreed about the how the principles for using Hebrew letters to render Yiddish should apply to words of Hebrew origin. Mostly, they favored leaving the spellings as in Hebrew, even though the orthographic principles were at odds with those governing spelling for other, non-Hebrew derived parts of Yiddish. But Soviet Yiddish orthographers favored uniformity, and hence re-spelled words of Hebrew origin when they were parts of Yiddish. Simcha, on this approach, is spelled סימכע, which you can see has only one letter (מ – mem) in common with its Hebrew spelling.

g) How should one render the name in Roman characters? There are various schemes  of Romanization for Hebrew and various (different) schemes for Romanization for Yiddish. So questions about which language(s) the names are in, and questions about the orthography of the names in Yiddish, have consequences for how they should be Romanized. A traditional (though far from universally sanctioned) rendering of the Hebrew name “שמחה” is “Simcha.” A common way of Romanizing the corresponding Yiddish name is “simkhe.” And some schemes of Romanization for Yiddish call for no capital letters, some for all capital letters, except for the second letter of a digraph (so SIMKhE), some for hyphenating paired names, etc. Hence the two versions of the compound name in the title of this post.

h) How does “Simcha Bunim” relate to the distinction between a ‘Jewish’ name (a name used for religious ritual purposes) and a kinuy (a secular name or a nickname)? Some authorities treat “Simcha” as a Jewish name and “Bunim” as a kinuy. But in other contexts, the compound name “Simcha Bunim” is treated as a Jewish name. And how are these questions related to the etymology of “Bunim”? Does it make a difference if ” Bunim” is derived from Hebrew or from French?

As you can see, a full treatment of the name “Simcha Bunim” would require a whole volume. Deep philosophical issues concerning words (their identity conditions and their relations to languages) would need to be tackled. Etymology, orthography, the anthropology of naming, all of these are pertinent too. Indeed, I begin to feel that a whole lifetime could not encompass the learning and thought needed to provide a proper commentary on the name “Simcha Bunim.”


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