Recently our niece gave birth to a baby girl and we finally learned the name that they had been keeping a secret during their pregnancy (it is Adelina in case you were wondering). In full disclosure, I must say that I am married to a goy, and this niece is from his side of the family. So the practice of naming a Jewish baby did not enter into it, but it got me thinking all the same. What are the practices and parameters around naming a Jewish baby?
Growing up as an Ashkenazi Jew, I had always heard that we name the baby after a deceased relative. Hence I was named Sara Fern after my Great Grandmother Sara Fanny (Just a little aside here, I was very thankful not to be named Fanny growing up as a child, but I think it would be a pretty cool name now) and my brother was named Marc after my Father's brother Max who had died as a young man. This was to keep their memory alive and to form a bond between us to our predecessors.
Interestingly, Sephardic Jews name their babies after living relatives for much the same reasons.
Some parents customarily choose a name based on the Jewish holiday coinciding with the birth. For example, a baby born at Purim-time might be named Esther or Mordechai. Similarly, names are sometimes chosen from the Torah portion corresponding to the week of the birth. Many names and events are mentioned in each Torah portion, offering a spiritual connection between the baby and that particular biblical figure.
A child’s Hebrew name might match the English name exactly, such as mine, Sara is Sara. It might be partially the same, or something different. Though most will choose a Hebrew or Yiddish name, it technically can be from any language or culture. This is the name the child will be called at their bar/bat mitzvah and other formal religious occasions.
Although based more on tradition than scripture, many Jews won’t announce a baby’s Hebrew name until the boy’s bris on the eighth day, or a girl’s naming ceremony which is at the first opportunity when the Torah is read with a minyan. During the baby naming ceremony, there is an opportunity for the parents of the new baby to explain their choice of name and its significance to them. Blessings are said during the ceremony acknowledging that the child has been entered into a covenant with God. Blessings are also recited for the baby’s well-being. The traditional wish is offered – that this child may grow into a life of study of Torah, of loving relationships, and the performance of good deeds.
The patronymic system dictates that the child's name is followed by ben (for the son of) or bat (daughter of) and then the father's name. But there are times when the matronymic system is followed, such as if the father is not Jewish. And in the spirit of inclusivity now sometimes both the mother's and father's names are used.
Most popular Jewish baby names from last year:
Girls: Ada, Allegra, Amira, Ava, Billie, Eden, Luna, Maya, Mia, Olivia/Livia, Pearl, Ruthie/Ruth, Sophia
Unisex: Ariel, Asa, Darcy, Eli
Boys: Archie, Benjamin, Elijah, Elior, Ezra, Jacob, Jonah, Jude, Lazar, Noah, Raphael, Ronan, Tobias