Madonna Changed Her Name When She Studied Kabbalah

Madonna has made headlines over the years for things she’s done both in her music career and in her personal life. In the early 2000s, she famously was one of many celebrities who admitted to studying Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism. Unlike other stars, however, Madonna was deeply dedicated to her studies.

Madonna smiling
Madonna | Dave Hogan/Getty Images

Madonna took up Kabbalah after giving birth to her daughter, Lourdes

Madonna didn’t grow up Jewish. Instead, prior to studying Kabbalah, the most exposure she had to Judaism was when she famously lived in an abandoned synagogue in New York from 1979 to 1982.

In a 2013 interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Madonna opened up about her life at the time and what led her to the practice.

“At 35, I was divorced and looking for love in all the wrong places. I decided that I needed to be more than a girl with gold teeth and gangster boyfriends. More than a sexual provocateur imploring girls not to go for second-best baby,” she admitted. “I began to search for meaning and a real sense of purpose in life. I wanted to be a mother, but I realized that just because I was a freedom fighter didn’t mean I was qualified to raise a child. I decided I needed to have a spiritual life. That’s when I discovered Kabbalah.”

Madonna in the Super Bowl halftime show
Madonna | Christopher Polk/Getty Images

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Madonna changed her name to Esther while studying Kabbalah

Madonna was so dedicated to her Kabbalah learning that she even took on a traditional name. She went by Esther, derived from the Persian name Satarah, meaning “star.”

“I was named [Madonna] after my mother,” she explained in a 20/20 interview at the time. “My mother died when she was very young, of cancer, and I wanted to attach myself to another name. This is in no way a negation of who my mother is. I wanted to attach myself to the energy of a different name.”

“If it’s traditional to be a decent human being, then I’m traditional,” she said about her studies.

Madonna singing and playing guitar
Madonna performs at during her “Sticky and Sweet” world tour at Olympic Stadium on September 6, 2008 in Rome, Italy | Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images

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Madonna doesn’t regret studying Kabbalah

Madonna was criticized at the time for joining what many believed wasn’t a real religious practice. But she told Harper’s Bazaar that her dedication came from a well-intended place.

“When the world discovered I was studying Kabbalah, I was accused of joining a cult. I was accused of being brainwashed. Of giving away all my money. I was accused of all sorts of crazy things,” she said.

“Kabbalah really freaked people out. It still does,” she continued. “Now, you would think that studying the mystical interpretation of the Old Testament and trying to understand the secrets of the universe was a harmless thing to do. I wasn’t hurting anybody. Just going to class, taking notes in my spiral notebook, contemplating my future. I was actually trying to become a better person.”