The Taxonomy of Temple Names
The on-line literature about how synagogues choose their names is very sparse, nor is the subject covered very often in the congregational histories that appear on the websites of many URJ congregations. Whatever naming process the founders have followed soon gets lost in the congregation’s unrecorded history, and we have many instances where the original name has been abandoned, and then later revived. 
Even the choice of the generic may have been an issue – will we be a temple, a synagogue, or a congregation? (Read more about this here.) There was a vogue back in the 1920’s, largely in the Conservative movement, for congregations to call themselves Jewish Centers (more than fifty such in New York state alone!); and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has recently taken to using kehilla (community) as the umbrella term for its member groups. Although there are Orthodox and Conservative congregations that use Temple in their names, a Jewish congregation that calls itself a temple is most likely Reform; and some 500 of the 900 member congregations in the Union for Reform Judaism identify as temples. I’m told that, in many communities that had two congregations, saying “I belong to the temple” meant one was Reform and saying “I belong to the synagogue” meant one was Conservative – referring to a Reform synagogue or a Conservative temple would have been a contradiction in terms. (More here.)
But styles and self-images change; Temple Emanuel in Sydney, Australia is now The Emanuel Synagogue and the Adelaide Liberal Temple is now Beit Knesset Shalom.
In Scranton PA, Kehilat Anshe Chesed became The Madison Avenue Temple in 1960, then Temple Hesed in 1974. Suburban Temple in Beachwood OH marked its sixtieth anniversary by adding a Hebrew identifier and becoming Kol Ami, the Suburban Temple. In an interesting paradox, as Hebrew names have become more central to the identities of Reform congregations, the generally traditionalist independent minyanim seem to be content to be called by their locations – the D.C. Minyan, the Mission Minyan, etc.
In addition to their English generics, the original names of many Reform congregations incorporated a Hebrew group designation, often with an English generic added. In Lexington KY, Temple Adath Israel was originally chartered as Adath Israel Congregation, which could be translated as Congregation Israel Congregation. Other such redundancies exist with congregations whose names include aguda, kahal, kehilla, knesset, and even mishkan, the first four being more or less synonymous with congregation, and the last as an effective equivalent to temple.
I suspect there was little if any intentionality in a new congregation’s choice of whether its name should stress the edifice, as with Beth (House of) or its variant spellings or even Mishkan, or the people of the congregation – Anshe (people of) or B’nai (Children of). The same probably holds true for the similar contrast between temple and congregation. (More on this here) http://blogs.rj.org/blog/2009/01/26/god_and_man_at_shul/ There may have been more thought behind group names like Ohabei, lovers of, Rodfei, pursuers of, or Shomrei, guardians of; but if so, it is rarely if ever documented on the website.
But the real signifier, to my mind, of what we should presume the congregation stood for in the eyes of its founders comes in what I think of as the value name: the core idea of what the institution stood for. Three of these core ideas dominate the names of URJ congregations, accounting for over half of our 900 congregations, in relatively equal proportion: God (Emanuel, Beth El, etc.), Israel (Temple Israel, Beth Israel, B’nai Israel), and Peace (Shalom or Sholom).
The other half also falls into three sectors, although the proportions here are less equal. We have geographic names, on the one hand identifying the congregation’s location, like Wilshire Boulevard Temple, or the five California and Arizona congregations whose names place them in the midbar, desert or wilderness; on the other hand, significant places in our people’s history, like Mount Zion or Mount Sinai. Although apparently never a Reform phenomenon, in the early twentieth century Orthodox congregations were frequently named after the region of origin of the founders, the Russischer Shul, Anshe Grodno, Anshe Motele, et al. And many congregations bear the name of people, both biblical and post-biblical, which I will discuss further in a future post.
Finally, we have what I have previously identified as core value names, such as the emet, truth, embedded in the name of my congregation, www.bethemet.org or tzedek, justice, which I recently discussed at length . Was there some special reason a given concept or value was chosen by the founders? And how does that value play out today in the life of the congregation? I’ll explore some of these other concepts in the weeks to come, but meanwhile, if my readers have any insight about the names of their own congregations and how they are reflected in the life of the congregation today, please share them with the RJ blog community.
 In my home town of Cleveland, Anshe Chesed became the Euclid Avenue Temple (later the Fairmount Temple) and is now Anshe Chesed, the Fairmount Temple; and Tifereth Israel became The Temple, and is now The Temple- Tifereth Israel.
 This appears to be part of an effort to bring non-institutional prayer groups such as chavurot and independent minyanim into affiliation with the USCJ.
3. Nonetheless there are 27 URJ congregations whose names incorporate Synagogue. I don’t have a count on Conservative temples, although my neighborhood shul growing up was the Conservative Temple on the Heights – which, by the way, has now revived its “buried” founding name, B’nai Jeshurun.
5. Kentucky also offers us Temple Adath Israel in Owensboro and The Temple Adath Israel Brith Shalom in Louisville.