Picking the right one for your baby

BY MARK MIETKIEWICZ

Last time we looked at the significance of Jewish names. Now, choosing them. If you happen to be in the market for a name — or if you want to lend some advice to someone who is — there is a wealth of suggestions waiting for you on the Web.

Of course, many Ashkenazim start their quest by considering naming after a family member. Rabbi Paysach Krohn quotes one of the founders of Chassidut in Galicia, Poland, Rabbi Elimelech of Lyzhansk, who said there is a profound connection between the soul of an infant and the soul of the person for whom he or she is named. “When a child is named after the deceased, the latter’s soul is elevated to a higher realm in heaven and a spiritual connection is created between the soul of the departed and the soul of the newborn child. That deep spiritual bond between these two souls can have a profound impact on the child.” [http://tinyurl.com/ndy9e]

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Although Sephardim may honor a living family member by naming a child after them, Ashkenazi Jews do not follow the same practice. As the Ritual Reality website explains, “they rarely name children after living relatives, probably dating from a superstition of the Middle Ages to avoid having the Angel of Death take the newborn child instead of the aging relative it was named for by mistake. ” [http://tinyurl.com/pwh7b]

And then there is the Bible. As Lisa Katz points out, there are about 2,800 names mentioned in the Bible but only about 5 percent of those names are used today. (Think of how many Abrahams and Esthers and you’ve met compared with of Arpachshads and Maacahs. [http://tinyurl.com/qf892]

Aside from relatives and the Bible, there is no shortage of other places to look. The Tri-City JCC site in Tempe, Ariz., lists the major sources including holidays, animals and plants, Israeli place names, Jewish celebrities and historical figures. [http://tinyurl.com/odz32]

There are several excellent sites where you can look up names. Babynamer.com isn’t a Jewish site, but it does index more than five hundred Hebrew names. You can even specify the first letter of the name and how many syllables you are looking for. With most names, you are given a definition. For example, Aviva means “Springtime” and Liora is “God’s gift of light to me.” [http://tinyurl.com/kxmze]

If you’re still stuck for a name, check out Cantor Philip L. Sherman’s Jewish Naming Guide [http://tinyurl.com/lg42h], BabyNameWorld [http://www.babynameworld.com/biblical.asp], JewishBabyNames [http://tinyurl.com/f63qo] and the Hebrew site, Zooloo [http://www.zooloo.co.il/more/name/]

Meanwhile, AskMoses answers some interesting name-related questions such as: Is it proper to name two siblings after the same grandparent? (same name, no; same letter, yes) [http://tinyurl.com/fzt2a] And of course, Jewish names aren’t just for newborns. Anita Diamant has advice for converts who want to choose the right name. [http://tinyurl.com/n37rx]

When selecting a name, parents are always walking a tightrope between choosing a unique moniker and one that’s become too popular. The U.S. Social Security Administration keeps tracks of baby naming trends so that you can check the popularity of the top thousand names going back to 1900. In 2004, there were 323 “Chayas” born, which placed her in 783rd place, and 173 “Chaims,” which put him in 953rd place. (Emily and Jacob have been number one since 1999.) [http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/]

I want to finish with a story that Rabbi Berel Wein tells. It’s about a brit milah that a friend of his attended. When the rabbi asked the father what he was going to name the newborn boy, the father responded:

“Avraham, Yitzchok, Yakov, David, Shlomo, Yosef.”

The rabbi was astounded and asked the father: “Why such a string of names?”

The father replied: “Rabbi, I am a poor man so the child won’t have much of an inheritance …

“If he resembles my wife’s side of the family, he probably won’t be that smart.

“And if he looks like my side of the family, he is not going to be too handsome, either.

“So, I decided, let him at least have a good name!”

Mark Mietkiewicz is a Toronto-based Internet producer who writes, lectures and teaches about the Jewish Internet. He can be reached at [email protected]

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