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Hebrew word of the week: Shoshannah (Lily or Rose)

The lovely girl in Song of Songs is compared to a lily of the valleys, a lily among thorns (2:1-2). Shoshana is also a given name for girls, which translates to Lily or Rose. The name was once very common in Israel, but not so much now. In Israeli Hebrew, like many other names, it is accented Shoshànnah, vs. the noun shoshannáh.* Popular nicknames in Israel are Shosh or Shoshie. 

Probably related to shesh “six,” for the lily has six sepals and six petals, that make two opposite triangles, like the Star of David.

Shoshana has been borrowed in Latin and European languages to become Susanna (and its pet forms: Susie, Sue, Susan, Suzanne). Susanna is well known from the Book of Daniel (Chapter 13) used by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches (and not included in Jewish TaNaKh).

*Compare Tóvah (proper name) vs. továh “good; favor” (noun); Yáfah vs. yafáh “pretty.”

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

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