It sounds Jewish, but is it? People Edition

It sounds Jewish, but is it? People Edition photo
Elon Musk

First we examined words and terms with the word or sound "Jew" in them, then we sorted through words that sound Jewish in some way and separated the Jewish from the secular. Now, it's time to play everyone's favorite game -- is that person Jewish?

Some people you would expect to be Jewish, given their names, are not:


In synagogues, an "aliyah" is an act of being called to the Torah. In Israel, "aliyah" is the act of immigrating to Israel. In both cases, the root word means "to ascend." In music, Aaliyah was a Grammy-nominated R&B performer who recorded her debut album at age 14 and was tragically killed in a small-plane crash at just 22.

Elon Musk

He's sort of the Tesla of our age, which is appropriate since he is CEO the electric-car company Tesla. He also pioneered SpaceX and PayPal and about a dozen other high-tech, Jetsons-sounding projects. He ranks high on the lists of billionaires and machers. And he's not Jewish, despite his first name, which is popular in Israel, being Hebrew for "tree."

Israel Kamakawiwoʻole

This sumo-size Hawaiian sang in a canary's range and strummed a tiny ukulele. He is best known for his cover of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

Shalom Harlow

She is a Canadian model for top brands like Chanel and Versace, who also appeared in the movies In & Out and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.

Seth Meyers

The Saturday Night Live alumnus and late-night host is, "No, not Jewish," he incessantly finds himself having to explain, despite, "my name, my face, and my everything."

Zadie Smith

This British novelist is not a Jewish grandfather. She changed her birth name, Sadie, when she was 14. In 2002, she was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

These fictional characters are not Jewish either:

Magilla Gorilla

Would you buy a gorilla from a pet store? Neither did anyone else in the run of this cartoon, from the studio of Hanna-Barbera (both partners were Jewish, though).

The Na'vi

Without an apostrophe, this word is Hebrew for "prophet." With one, it's a giant blue cat-person from the movie Avatar.

Natasha Nogoodnik

This animated Russian spy was the partner of Boris Badenov, and their targets were the moose-and-squirrel team of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Officially, her name was Natasha Fatale, but she is called this Yinglish name in some episodes. Like "kibbutznik," "trombenik,"and "nudnik," the word has a Yiddish suffix that made its way into English: Beatnik, neatnik, peacenik, alrightnik, etc.

Simon Bar Sinister

One of the baddies from Underdog. No relation to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, or to rebel Shimon bar Kochba.

She-Ra, Princess of Power

Plenty of Jewish girls named Shira were thrilled in the 1980s because a female superhero with their name was on TV. Then the new millennium brought another Shira, the female saber tooth in the Ice Age sequels.


This lackluster wizard from The Last Unicorn is not Jewish, but at least aptly named. To be fair, he was voiced by Jewish Oscar-winner Alan Arkin (who also wrote the last song you'd expect).

However, these Jewish-sounding people and characters are Jewish:

Israel Baline

He became famous as Irving Berlin, though. You might have heard of some of the songs he wrote, like "God Bless America" and "White Christmas."

Mayim Bialik

A real comeback kid, she had a sitcom in the 1980s called Blossom, then became a scientist (the four women on the left of this linked image are Jewish), then became a hit actor again in The Big Bang Theory. And she speaks fluent Yiddish. Her first name is Hebrew for "water;" major Jewish poet Chaim Bialik was her great-grandfather's first cousin.

Abba Eban

"Abba" is Hebrew for "father," fitting for one of Israel's founding fathers. Born Aubrey Solomon Meir Eban in South Africa, he became Israeli foreign affairs minister, education minister, deputy prime minister, ambassador to both the U.S. and the U.N., and president of the Weizmann Insitute.

Josh Gad

You may know him from The Book of Mormon, as Olaf in Frozen, or as Le Fou in the live-action Beauty and the Beast. But his last name is one of the lesser-known Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Isaac Mizrahi

"Mizrach" is Hebrew for "east." This colorful fashion designer is named for the Middle Eastern origins of his family.

Rena Sofer

A "sofer" is someone who scribes a "sefer," as in a sefer Torah, and also the parchments in tefillin and mezuzot. A "Rena Sofer" is an actor who was in the rather Jewish movies Keeping the Faith and A Stranger Among Us, as well as the TV shows NCIS, Heroes, 24, Just Shoot Me!, Melrose Place… and the "muffin tops" episode of Seinfeld.


Yes, his name is German for "fear." But his creator, children's author William Steig, was Jewish, so I say he got it from Yiddish. So what if he has a Scottish accent? There are Scottish Jews.

Max, the Wild Thing

You know, from Where the Wild Things Are. The author, Maurice Sendak, was Jewish; the Yiddish expression "vilde chayah" -- or "wild animal" -- is often yelled after the unruly child who just knocked over a lamp, a plant, a vase, and a table while swooshing his X-wing in the living room where he is not, and I have said this a hundred times, not supposed to play!

Paul Wieder photo 375
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