My parents followed tradition. They named me for two of my great grandmothers who passed away before I was born: Libby Garelick and Anna Friedman. My Hebrew name, Liba Chava, is a combination of their Hebrew names. And when I was about a month old, I was officially welcomed into the Jewish community at my baby naming ceremony. While I find the traditional Ashkenazi baby naming tradition to be both beautiful and meaningful, I’ve chosen to tweak it here and there for my own kids. I may not be following the rules to a T or sticking to tradition, but this is what works for our family.
While I was pregnant with my oldest a few years ago, I was often asked by family members and Jewish friends if I was planning on doing a baby naming. I gave it some consideration, but ultimately decided not to pursue it. I’m sure many assumed that I was influenced by my husband, who isn’t Jewish, or that my in-laws were insisting on a Christening if we went ahead with the Jewish tradition. The truth is much simpler, yet probably harder for some to swallow; I just didn’t feel that it was necessary.
The Hebrew name I’ve chosen for you is Chava Tziporah which means “lively little bird”. Chava is taken from my own name, while Tziporah is a tribute to your great auntie, Francine. It is yours if and when you want it, my little hummingbird.
I didn’t need a ceremony to introduce my daughter to the Jewish community. Instead, I get to tell the story behind her name to friends and family organically over coffee breaks, play dates, and holiday dinners. I talk to my daughter often about the women she is named for so that perhaps she’ll feel a stronger connection to them, one that is based on more than just common letters. As we flip through old photo albums together and talk about the people in our family, this is what I tell her:
“Sasha Grace, you are named for two amazing women. Your first name -Sasha- is in memory of my grandma, Charlotte, who was the most stunningly elegant woman I ever knew. Not only was she gorgeous, but she had style, class, and a fabulous sense of humor. Her laugh was contagious! And your middle name -Grace- is in memory of my Baubie, Esther. She was both graceful and gracious, warm and wise. She never judged, and had a gift of making those around her feel at ease. My hope for you is that the beautiful traits of these women find their way to your heart. And someday, if you’d like, your Hebrew name- Zlata Esther- will be waiting for you.”
My second baby girl was born on October 3rd, just a few short weeks ago. I’ll admit that, while my husband and I nailed down her English name shortly after we found out she was a girl twenty weeks into the pregnancy, I struggled to find the right Hebrew name for her since we weren’t intending to name her in memory of anyone. Now that she’s here, I finally have it figured out. This is what I whisper to her while she sleeps in my arms:
“Natalia Nicolette, we chose your name before we knew how well it would suit you. Your first name -Natalia- relates to birth and your middle name -Nicolette- is derived from Nike, the greek goddess of victory. You truly are a victorious birth. You declared yourself ready to enter the world a full month early and did so in a big way for someone so tiny. You had me in labor for four days before you finally made your debut. You may be small, but you are strong. The Hebrew name I’ve chosen for you is Chava Tziporah which means “lively little bird”. Chava is taken from my own name, while Tziporah is a tribute to your great auntie, Francine. It is yours if and when you want it, my little hummingbird.”
So my girls’ names don’t follow the traditional rules exactly. So I’m not gathering my family and community together to watch a rabbi bless them. So what? My daughters have deeply meaningful Hebrew names that are but one tiny piece of their Jewish identity.