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It's All in the Name

It's All in the Name

Paradoxically, our children help connect us to our Jewish roots.


We are awaiting our fourth child... and here we go again. My husband and I are trying to come up with an appropriate name for another precious soul. The process is full of excitement, fun, anticipation – and high expectations from our child who is not even born yet. It’s like that old joke: "We are happy to announce the birth of our son, Dr. Solomon Stern."

The fact that I know the gender of the baby (patience is not one of my virtues), while my husband chose not to find out, does not make things easier. In order to not give away the secret, I have to insist equally hard on my picks for either gender (even though I already know that half the battle is not even worth fighting). Thank God, my husband and I are not that far apart in our choices. We are not considering names like Nicholas, Ahmed, Jose, Fatima and Google.

We evaluated not just the sound and flow of each name, but also the essence.

We are choosing a name that is connected to our Jewish roots. First we took a look at all our deceased relatives whose lives we admired and whose memory we want to preserve. This did not give us many options, since the appropriate names were already used for our first three children. So we went to to expand our options. We looked at all the names one by one, evaluating not just their sound and flow, but also looking into the essence of each. If it’s a biblical personality, what they live for, what did they accomplish, and what character traits distinguished them? If the name is an object or an animal, what is the deeper meaning behind it?

From the very first breath, we want to imbue our children with those qualities we value the most – whether it's the wisdom of King Solomon, the self-sacrifice of Rachel, the sincere prayer of Chana, the humility of Moses, the peacemaking of Aaron, or simply peace itself – Shalom. We hope that a name like Aryeh (“lion”) will put courage into our son's heart, or a name like Nechama will bring “comfort” to our lives. We name our son Reuven (“see, a son!”) to proclaim the joy of having a son, or a daughter Shayna (“beautiful!”) to express our pride in her inner and outer beauty.

Related Article: Naming A Baby

The Process

While my baby grows within me I have time to reflect on how we chose the names of our first three children. When we got married, we were only in the beginning of our Jewish journey. We were both coming from assimilated backgrounds (me being a child of intermarriage), and we wanted to find a name for our first born that would reflect our strong connection to Judaism and yet have a modern ring to it. My great-grandfather was legendary in my mother's family for practicing Jewish tradition even during the Soviet regime. His name was Zelig. At that time we could not consider giving our son that name, since it would upset everyone in our respective families. So we found a compromise. My husband, as an only child, was a bit of a loner; at the age of 10 he got into painting. The theme often involved wolves. So we combined my heritage and my husband's passion, and came up with a perfect name – Zev (Hebrew for “wolf”).

Next, we had a daughter. That one was easy. My husband's beloved grandmother was the one who raised him, for all practical purposes, while his parents were establishing themselves in the early years after arriving in the promised land of America. Her name was Rivka. He had three other ancestors named Chana and Chanan. Thus was born our precious daughter Rivka Chana.

She insisted that a secular name would make life easier in the USA.

Don’t forget that one consideration in choosing a name is that the grandparents are pleased. My mother-in-law was very happy that we named our daughter after her mother, though she kept insisting that we also give her a secular name to make life easier in the USA. At some point, though, she got tired of repeating herself and gave up.

This name, however, did not go over well with my parents. So to try to mitigate "the damage" of a "too-Jewish-of-the-name," when it came to our third child, we went with my grandfather's name, Mikhail. But to keep it biblical, we adjusted the name into Michal, one of King David's wives. We also loved the name Avigail ("father's joy"), who was also a wife of King David. And so came down to earth our third blessing, Avigail Michal.

With her, I really understood the Talmudic teaching (Brachot 7b) that our names influence who we are. She is comparable to the both queens – not only in beauty but also very strong and assertive! Jewish tradition says that parents are actually blessed with prophesy when naming their newborn babies so that they will choose names which aptly describe their children's personas and their destinies in life.

The news of my fourth pregnancy was met with tears, and those were not tears of joy, but tears of "why-are-you-ruining-your-life?" and "when-are-you-going-to-live-for-yourself?" Time heals everything, and now my parents more or less made peace with the fact that I am pregnant AGAIN. The next challenge is the name.

So as we anxiously await child number four, we pray that the name we choose will be befitting of the high hopes and expectations that we have for our new daughter … umm, I mean, son… I mean, I’m not supposed to say yet.

October 9, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Harriet Wolpoff, October 16, 2011 9:30 PM

name Jose

Just as many people with the English name Joseph would consider their name a Jewish Biblical one, so would a Hispanic Jew consider Jose to be a Jewish Biblical name. Your point is well-taken, but this is not the best example.

(3) ruth housman, October 16, 2011 10:16 AM

what's in, a name?

Hi, TOVA, a beautiful name, is AVOT backwards, referring in Hebrew to Fathers, so beautiful backwards and forwards. And OVA within, being egg in Latin, is also about something beautiful, as in Creation and New Beginnings. I can do this endlessly with all names and I say, we are all actualizing the potentials within the letters and the words, across Babel. But then, who has been listening to me, as I have been writing and illustrating this for over eleven years, a story that is beautiful, about us all. I could say, that after all your wonderful deliberations about the name for your new baby, the name you choose will be the right one, and the one, preordained for this child? But that's peeling another layer off the onion, and what appeals to you, is surely your choice. There is an alchemy to names and naming, and all that you wrote above in this article is beautifully true, but there is more, and I call it, the More in Amore. There is something about names. The AM and the AME within, which does mean SOUL in French. I trust the name for this baby will be "perfect" and that LOVE powers all. WELCOME to the WORLD, little dancer!

(2) Mrs Belogski, October 11, 2011 8:15 AM


I loved that you researched the biblical personalities before deciding whether to use the name. Our youngest is named after a 19th century rabbi and I read his biography before agreeing to the name! Be'sha'ah tova!

(1) Saul Pillai, October 11, 2011 7:01 AM

This article made me smile...

Dear Tova (a beautiful name) This article is so important for couples having children or planning to have children and thank you for sharing your (and husband’s) personal journey in naming your children. I particularly loved this line – “Jewish tradition says that parents are actually blessed with prophesy when naming their newborn babies so that they will choose names which aptly describe their children's personas and their destinies in life.” It made me wonder what thoughts my parents had when they bestowed on me the name Saul Michael. All the best with the new baby and the blessings of HaShem be upon you and your family.

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