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Changing One’s Name

We named our daughter (now four months) Linor. She is happy and healthy, but her name has always been a source of upset for me. I suffered from terrible post-partum depression, and her name always reminds me of that difficult period. Is there any way we can change her name now, and would that be an appropriate thing to do?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Technically, a person is allowed to change or to add to his name for any reason. Customarily, it is not done unless the person is very sick or was given a non-Jewish name at birth.

The reason we general frown on changing a person’s name is because a person’s name is said to define his essence, to describe the sort of person he is and his spiritual strengths. We generally assume that the name a child was granted at birth most accurately defines his person. There is a Kabbalistic notion that at the child’s naming the parents are given Divine inspiration and choose the best name for his soul. (See Divrei Yechezkel HaCahdash 8, Divrei Yatziv Likutim 102, and Teshuvos V'Hanhagos I 604. This is widely quoted from the great Kabbalist the “Ari,” but there is no known source for this.)

Thus, we generally do not change a name lightly – certainly if it’s only a matter of the parents afterwards deciding they like a different name better. Only if the person was never given a Jewish name or if he becomes deathly ill – in which case we want to assign him a new name and mission in life, which may grant him additional years – would we change his name.

Even so, there are opinions that non-standard or non-traditional names should be changed. Another example is if a name usually associated with boys is given to a girl of vice versa. This is true in particular if a person wants to join a more traditional community and does not want his name to be a source of discomfort and alienation. In general it is better to choose a more standard and accepted name for one’s child, so he or she will never be embarrassed by it.

In your case, it would be fine to add to or to change your daughter’s name partly because it depresses you greatly (not just slightly) and partly because the name, although not non-Jewish, is not a traditional one. There are many beautiful traditional names to choose from. See this page for many choices: http://www.aish.com/jl/l/b/48966261.html.

In terms of how to change the name, the best way is to say the special prayer for it which may be found at the end of most books of Tehillim (Psalms). This is best done in your local synagogue, on a day when the Torah is read (typically, Shabbat, Monday and Thursday). The prayer will be said before the entire congregation to properly publicize the change (or addition).

In truth, however, the special prayer is not a must. The main thing – and the actual thing which changes her name – is the fact that everyone begins calling her by the new name instead of the old. When this is done for 30 days, her new name becomes her “real” name – which will be used for example on her Ketubah (marriage contract). Conversely, if people continue to call her by her old name, that will remain her official name until people stop using it (even if some people have begun using the new name, and have done so for 30 days). Therefore, it’s important that you notify all family and friends of the change. (Sources: Shulchan Aruch E.H. 129, Beit Shmuel 33, Igrot Moshe E.H. IV 104.)

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