Category: Jewish baby names
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.
Yiddish names have a rich history, rooted in an older generation of Jewish people belonging to the Ashkenazic (from Germany and Eastern Europe) community. The Yiddish language evolved during medieval times from High German (influenced by Hebrew and some eastern European languages), and the word “Yiddish” itself literally means “Jewish.” Genealogists familiar with old U.S. Federal Census records will have noticed many a census record where the census taker recorded an immigrant’s language as being “Jewish” when it more properly should have been recorded as “Yiddish.”
While many fondly associate Yiddish names with their beloved grandparents and great-grandparents, Yiddish is nonetheless making a comeback. California‘s San Francisco Bay area is home to Der Bay, a widely circulated Anglo-Yiddish newsletter of events, and such movies as Fiddler on the Roof and the animated An American Tail (both featuring Yiddish-named characters) are fondly familiar to mainstream America.
Accounting for the many spelling variations of Yiddish names is the fact that Yiddish is a language written in Hebrew letters, which then may be transliterated into the letters of the Roman alphabet for English language readers and speakers. In Yiddish names, “creative spellings” (a frequent complaint on Internet baby name discussion boards) are not only common, but necessary!
Here are some Yiddish names (with their variations) worth considering:
BIELKA, BIELKE — “beautiful, white.”
BLIMA, BLUMA — “flower.”
DAVRUSHA –“ form of Deborah, the Biblical prophetess and judge.
HINDA, HINDE – “hind, doe.”
One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is an ancestral name, one that forms a strong link to his or her past, and more and more parents today are searching and researching their family trees to find names that have personal significance as well as style. And with genealogical websites like ancestry.com, it’s now possible to dig deeper into the roots of the tree to find forgotten nuggets, maybe an unusual middle name of a great-grandmother, or an interesting maiden name that could work as a first.
Using the name of a living or fondly remembered relative has the satisfying benefit of conveying the essence of that loved one, in the hope of bestowing their admirable qualities on your child. But even with a more distant forebear whom you might not have known, family stories of that person’s achievements can come alive again through the name, providing your child with an immediate and precious legacy.
I myself have not been able to trace my family history back more than a few generations, and for the most part the names reflect the Jewish immigrant experience: the expected Sarahs, Samuels (many), Sols and Sauls, Rachels, and Rebeccas, but there were a couple of more unusual, untranslated from the Yiddish, exceptions:
NAHOMA (called Nelly)
From my husband’s more mixed background (English/Guernsey French), we’ve found:
LOL (male, probably a nickname for LIONEL — in the days before laugh out loud)
I’ve used my father’s name Sam as the inspiration for daughter Chloe’s middle name Samantha, and Pam has incorporated one male ancestor of hers (a grandfather’s middle– Owen) and one of her husband’s (Leopold, which became the middle name of son Joe).
On the Name Talk forums you have already posted some wonderful family names of your own. (unicorngal put together a fascinating compendium a few months ago at http://nameberry.com/nametalk/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=2690&hilit=ancestor), including such gems as :
But I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg (to further mix my metaphors), which led me to think of this as a perfect crowd-sourced blog topic.
So let’s hear your own favorites from your family tree. Have you incorporated them into your child’s name? Do you plan to in the future? Does you family have any particular naming traditions?
Max can stand on its own or may be a short form of the ancient Roman name Maximus, which means “greatest,” or of Maximilian or Maxwell. It’s one of the down-to-earth cigar-chomping grandpa names last popular a hundred years ago and enjoying a huge revival now. Like brothers Sam and Jake, Max is unpretentious and friendly but also sounds cool.
Celebrities led the way in launching the revival of the name, starting in the late 70s and early 80s. Stars who are the parents of now-grown kids named Max include Dustin Hoffman, Henry Winkler, Steven Spielberg, and Nora Ephron & Carl Bernstein.
In the most recent list of Most Popular Boys ‘ Names, all five of the top five names came from the Good Book, accounting for well over 100,000 of the boy babies born in the US. Obviously, many parents–whether for religious reasons or not–continue to be attracted to names with this strong traditional base. But why, we ask, be limited to the same relatively small group of biblical choices, when there are loads of other more unusual options out there? Why not Joab or Joah instead of Noah? Beniah rather than Benjamin? Jemuel in place of Samuel?
Many of these now obscure names were quite commonly used by the Puritan Colonists, especially in New England, until the middle of the 19th century when Old Testament names fell out of favor. Most of the names listed below are hardly heard today, with only one of them–Asa–even appearing in the current Top 1000, but they are all possible alternatives to those standards that are given to thousands of babies each year.