Category: family traditions
Guest blogger Hilary Zalon, founder of thecradle.com, explains the modern tradition of the Jewish naming ceremony for girls.
I have two wonderful daughters. And while I was never averse to having a little boy, I’m relieved that I was able to skip the Jewish ritual to welcome a son. In fact, the relatively new Jewish ceremony to welcome a daughter is much more up my alley.
If you’re not Jewish, or aren’t familiar with these traditions, here’s a quick 101: The male ceremony is a ‘brit milah’ – also known as a bris - the ceremony for circumcising an eight-day-old boy. The female ceremony goes by a number of names, including ‘simchat bat’ (rejoicing of the daughter), all to celebrate…get this…naming your daughter!
No sharp implements. No rush to get a party together in eight days while recovering from the actual delivery of the baby. And we get to celebrate one of the most enjoyable parts of welcoming a baby – choosing a name. In this instance, we’re celebrating the Hebrew name, so we get to pick even more names!
Many refer to a baby naming as a “modern” or “contemporary” tradition, and while there are signs that baby naming rituals happened hundreds of years ago, it really became a more recognized option for parents in the ‘70’s (likely coinciding with the rise of feminism and the increase in bat-mitzvahs). Since it is so new (forty years is nothing when you’re dealing with a history that’s over 5,000 years old), it is still up to personal interpretation and the ceremony can really represent your family’s personality and style.
We’re not a very religious family, but we do have a strong pride in our heritage and our Jewish community. For both of our daughters, we waited until they were 9-10 months old, which is probably a lot longer than most people wait. Some parents have a naming ceremony just eight days after the birth (echoing the male circumcision ritual). Others say a blessing for their daughter when they are called to the Torah – sometimes as early as the first Sabbath after the birth.
At our event, the rabbi led a very simple and beautiful ceremony at our home, which included a welcome prayer, description of the ceremony, an explanation of the names we chose, a blessing for our daughter, and a blessing for everyone. As with most of our Jewish traditions, there is wine and food. Those two are always a hit. (Although finding good bagels in L.A. is still a struggle.)
As for the names we chose:
Our older daughter’s given name is Sasha Leah (honoring my grandmother, Sylvia, and my husband’s grandmother, Leah). The Hebrew name is traditionally the Hebrew name of the person she is named for. Since my grandmother didn’t have a Hebrew name that was meaningful to her, we were able to choose a name that was actually a second-runner up to her given name. And her middle name was a no-brainer since her given middle name is already a Hebrew name. She received her Hebrew name, Sivan Leah, right after my dad joked, “Anyone want a slice of Sivan Leah cake?”
Our younger daughter is Esmé Juliette (for my grandmother, Eva, and my husband’s grandfather, Jack). Ever since I read JD Salinger’s Nine Stories in school, I was stuck on the name Esmé – but I hadn’t read or seen any of the Twilight books or movies, so when I learned about the character named Esmé, my heart sank a bit – only out of a little sadness that this ‘secret’ gem of a name (actually popular in South Africa and a few European companies) might become more well known! Her Hebrew name, Chava Yael, was another half-given: Chava is the Hebrew name for Eva/Eve. But since her middle name was for a male, we felt we could choose any name we liked that started with a Y (the Hebrew alphabet doesn’t use J’s). We were able to avoid my father’s imminent joke that her middle name should be ‘Piece-a’ so his granddaughters could be ‘Chava Piece-a Sivan Leah’ cake.
Hilary Zalon founded TheCradle.com, an award-winning online resource for expectant and new parents. Since the sale of the site to giggle, Hilary has been exploring a number of different ventures, her favorite being enjoying more time with her daughters and husband.
Guest blogger Sachiko, an LDS church member and mother of going-on-seven children, enlightens us on the ins and outs of the strange baby naming practices of the state of Utah.
If you’re familiar with Utah baby naming, you know what I’m talking about.
If you aren’t, then here’s a link to the Utah Baby Namer. I recommend you click on “The Cream of the Crop.” I know you’re busy. You only need to read a few.
No, really. Go on. I’ll still be here when you get back.
Do you see what some of the laughing is about?
Some of the subsets of Utah names, and what makes them seem so ridiculous to outsiders:
Scriptural Names — This one’s a no-brainer. Utah culture is not always the same as, but is connected to, LDS church history.
Like other religiously informed baby namers, Utah and LDS people view books of Holy Writ as prime baby naming material.
Unlike other religiously informed baby namers, Utah and LDS people have scriptures other religions don’t have, most notably the Book of Mormon. Which means names you probably haven’t heard before, unless you’re familiar with Semetic and Egyptian names from the ancient world such as Nephi, Moroni, Mahonri, or Moriancumr.
Is Everybody Here Named Smith, Kimball or Young? Most of the early converts to the LDS church were from the British Isles. Add that to a few decades of polygamy, and you end up with huge amounts of descendents with the same English last name.
This can help explain why Utah baby namers sometimes choose wildly divergent names: to differentiate themselves from all the siblings, cousins, neighbors and strangers with the same last name. This is also where Utahns get historical names like Brigham, Parley and Heber.
Guest blogger Skye Pifer, of Sarasota, Florida, co-authored “The New Grandparent Name Book; a lighthearted guide to picking the perfect grandparent name,” with her mother, Lin Wellford, who lives in the Arkansas Ozarks.
I guess you could say my mom is something of a name fanatic. She picked out my name when she was still a little girl, after seeing it in one of her aunt’s movie magazines. Soon after that, she modified her own name, one she points out, that is shared by at least a million other girls born in the late 1940’s through the mid-1960’s; Linda. She tried to get people to call her Lynn but public school teachers seemed determined to use the name on her records. Only after the fresh start of college did she try again, spelling it ‘Lin,’ and that time it took.
So when she learned I was expecting, it didn’t take my mother long to began wondering what her grandchild-to-be should call her. In our family, grandparenting names are pretty personal. My maternal great-grandparents called themselves “Gramma and Gran.” Another set were “Mamaw and Pampaw.” My own grandmother (the person who stuck my mom with ‘Linda’) was certainly old enough to be a grandmother when I came along. But she rejected all the more standard grandmother names and elected to be called “Mutti” (a German version of ‘Mom.’ She’s now in her late 80’s and is known as Mutti not just to her eight grandchildren, but also to our spouses, friends, and now several great-grands as well.
Because she was aware that the name she picked was likely to stay with her for the rest of her life, my mom was determined to choose one that made her happy. It needed to suit her personality, not be super-common, and sound good coming not just from a toddler but also from a teenager. We both began paying attention to what other grandparents were calling themselves, jotting down various options to try them out. I discovered how inventive people in my parent’s generation are when it comes to their grandparenting names.
I’ll admit that I hoped Mom wouldn’t come up with anything too off-the-wall. I kind of cringed at the thought of her being a Bubbles, or Glamma. There are so many options for variations along more traditional lines, like Nanna, Gram or MeMo. Or she could have picked a name from another culture, like Oma, which is German, or Abbi, short for Abuelita, Spanish for grandmother. Noni, Peaches, Sonoma, G-Ma, MoMo, and Grindi, are just a few of the more unusual names we ended up collecting. My mom’s cousin is a professional nanny caring for a set of twins whose grandparents call themselves Rocky and Kitty. My cousin’s in-laws go by Bubba and Bama. One of Mom’s friends confessed that she hoped that if she ever had grandchildren, she’d ask them to call her Granzilla! Luckily, in the end, Mom decided upon using Mimi as her grandmother name. My dad was not that picky, so when I suggested he be ‘Popi’, he was happy to go along with that.
A few days ago, I was introduced to Fred Gooltz, COO of the hot new obsession site itsasickness.com. Wow, I thought, Fred, one of my favorite cool retro names. But it soon became evident that Fred didn’t share my enthusiasm, expressing his negative feelings about growing up with a name that seemed to be out of step with his time. To delve a little deeper, we had the following e-conversation:
FRED: There are always certain kinds of people who try to call you Freddy. Some people like to put “ie” on the end of any name, usually because they’re playing at childish schoolyard politics, infantilizing others with nicknames to feel stronger. It’s like assuming that you’ve got the right to call somebody ‘slugger’ or ‘kiddo’ or ‘champ.’ I rage against Freddie. I always picture the ‘I’ dotted with a heart.
Very few nicknames were attempted on me – I had one teacher who called me “Dauntless” for a while, but thankfully it didn’t stick when I changed schools. It’s entertaining and a little sad when a person with a clunky wig of a name like Fred goes by “Thunder” or “The Hammer.” It’s the McLovin joke from the movie Superbad. Nobody wants to be that guy. Naming your son Fred, Poindexter, Egbert, or Sheldon nearly guarantees that they have to deal with a moment like that eventually.
Do you know why your parents picked the name? Does it have any family connections? Did it affect your feelings towards your parents?
FRED: There are Alfreds and Fredericks all over my family history. My family is full of old timey names. But my mom – whose name is Estelle, by the way – insists that she really liked the name. She actually loved the name Friedrich, from a character in Little Women.“ The book probably made Friedrich a popular name in the 1870s, but a century later… not so much. I should probably be grateful–another option was apparently the name Zepherin.
Were you teased in Elementary School? High School? College?
FRED: In spite of the name Fred, to be honest, I wasn’t teased too badly about my name. I was teased because of my behavior. If anything, my name probably encouraged me to be able to fit in with different tribes of kids in school.
Ever think of changing your name?
FRED: Yes. I’ve met some very wonderful Freds who are passionate about spreading the name. and I’ve met some very nice people who are comforted by the Lawrence Welk Show- era simplicity of the name, but I’m not a Fred-evangelist. It took a long time for me to come to terms with my name. About thirty years. The first time I tried to change my name I was probably seven years old. For about a month I insisted that my family call me Rick – shortened from Frederick. I was adamant, I wouldn’t respond to my family unless I was addressed as Rick. But this distaste for the name Fred made my mother sad, so I dropped it. I’m sorry to say, but Fred never completely clicked with me. The sound of the name itself can sometimes clang like a jeer – even from friends. Frederick is probably better, I think.
Kayla Lyn Bronder, as a volunteer Public Health Officer at the St. Camillus Hospital in Karango, Kenya, had the opportunity to closely observe the baby naming practices of the Luo culture, and we appreciate her sharing them with us. During her eight month stint, Kayla developed the Nyatike Jigger Eradication Campaign to assist those in the community affected by the parasitic flea known as a Jigger. For more information on the project, visit her blog: kaylainkenya.blogspot.com. Kayla will be returning to Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans in July.
In Luo culture, the naming of a child is an important and yet strangely flexible process. Unlike American parents, Luo parents often wait days or even weeks before naming their baby. And while the first name is a traditionally Christian or “Western” name, the second name usually indicates the time, weather, or conditions of the child’s birth. Finally, the father’s name (in our context, the last name) is often overlooked and only used for official documents.
A baby girl born while it is raining could be named Vivianne (Western name) Akoth (A for a girl, -koth for rain)
My Luo name is Adhiambo. A for a girl, -dhiambo because I was born in the late afternoon.
Occasionally parents feel inspired by athletes, musicians, or world leaders and name their children Clinton, Reagan, and countless Barack Obamas, and right alongside our great American presidents are their beautiful wives Hillary and Michelle. I haven’t met too many Georges or Lauras, but I try not to read too much into that.
Unfortunately, some parents make drastically horrible decisions when it comes to naming their children. My (least) favorites have included Violence, Morphine, and Dotcom. Thankfully for Luo children, they mostly go by their Luo names, so they need not dwell on the cruel miscalculations of their families.
The final interesting realization I’ve come to concerning the Luo child naming process is the powerful flexibility of the whole ordeal. With hundreds of babies born at home each day in impoverished conditions, the practices of birth certificates, embroidered baby blankets, birth announcements, etc. remain foreign oddities. So a baby’s name often evolves and changes until something sticks.