Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 8 June 2013 / 29 Sivan 5773

Name-Calling

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

From: Stephanie

Dear Rabbi,

My husband and I are expecting a birth soon, and we were wondering, if it will be a girl whether there are any special considerations or customs regarding giving a name. We are familiar with the name giving for a boy at the brit, but is there anything like this for a girl?

Dear Stephanie,

May you have a normal and healthy birth, and may you and your husband have much Jewish pride from this baby, as well as from all other children of yours.

According to traditional Jewish teachings, parents are given special Divine inspiration in naming their children. It is described as one of the remnants of prophecy. This is because a name is bound with, and has an effect on, the spiritual character of a person. It is therefore of utmost importance to choose a name which fits this lofty purpose.

That being said, there are general guidelines for choosing a name which are traditionally adhered to, and which create proper context within which the prophetic nature of the name giving can be realized and expressed.

One common practice is to name children after relatives or rabbis of outstanding spiritual and moral standing. Sefardim often do so for people who are still living; Ashkenazim do so only after the departed. In any case, this is viewed as establishing a spiritual connection between the child and the namesake. It is also considered a way of honoring the one being named after.

Another practice is to name children after righteous people mentioned in the weekly Torah or Haftarah portion of the week in which they were born. So children born when the Book of Genesis is read publicly might be given the names of the patriarchs, matriarchs, or Tribes. While those born during "Exodus" might be named Moshe or Aharon; or Yocheved, Miriam and Tziporah.

A third practice, which is related to the former, is relevant when a child is born during a specific time period or holiday throughout the Jewish year, where parents might name a child after righteous people associated with that time. So a child born around Chanuka might be named Yehuda or Yehudit; while names associated with Purim would be Mordechai or Esther; and Shavuot would be Boaz or Ruth, for example.

Regarding the ceremony associated with naming daughters, it is usually done by calling the father for an aliya to the Torah, after which time a special blessing is recited for the health and well-being of the mother and baby, who are referred to by name. It is here that the first official pronouncement of the baby's name is made, as the daughter of so-and-so (either mother's name or father's or both). Some do this at the first possible opportunity after birth – even on a weekday. Others wait specifically until Shabbat. The name is usually not revealed until that time, except in order to consult with a rabbi.

Parents customarily give out cakes, sweets and make a “l'chaim” at this time in order to share the joy of the occasion with others, as a way of giving thanks to G-d and in honor of the mitzvah of giving a proper Jewish name. Those who do the name-giving particularly on Shabbat will generally host a festive kiddush after prayers for the community, and this is a type of "mitzvah meal" akin to the meal made in honor of the brit for a boy.

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