Jewish Naming Ceremony: Celebrating a daughter’s name
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.
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on July 14th, 2010 at 11:49 pm
I love that there’s an article about Jewish baby naming.
My Hebrew name is Leah Rivka, but I only recently heard about parents being able to pick the names! My friend’s Hebrew name is Shira, which fits her (well, both of us) perfectly because we’re singers and it means “song”. But I suppose I’m just named after two of the matriarchs =)
on July 15th, 2010 at 9:31 am
This blog is so fascinating, thank you for sharing your family’s tradition with us! Your daughters’ given names and Hebrew names are beautiful! (And I completely agree about the “discovery” of the name Esme in the Twilight series — it was so underused and unknown here before those books! Nonetheless, still an excellent choice and I am considering it as well!)
Emmy Jo Said
on July 15th, 2010 at 11:39 am
Lovely names! Thank you for the enlightening post.
on July 15th, 2010 at 12:13 pm
How Timely! I came to the site to look up a couple Hebrew names b/c we are planning our 9 month old’s naming ceremony. My husband is Jewish and I am not. I had to go through with the bris for the first child and am so happy this one is a girl! Our daughter’s 1st Hebrew name will be Hanna / Chana after one of her paternal great-grandmothers and Safra / Zafra after her second paternal great-grandmother Sophia.
on July 15th, 2010 at 12:33 pm
I loved hearing about how you honored family and tradition with the lovely names you chose. Ditto on Esme. Great post–thank you.
on July 16th, 2010 at 2:48 am
Love the names you chose 🙂
More and more Jewish people are choosing to skip the circumcision part with their boys, instead they are opting to have a naming ceremony similar to the girl’s naming ceremony. Much more humane in today’s enlightened age!
on July 16th, 2010 at 4:01 pm
Thank you all for your kind words! And I think a naming ceremony for boys sounds like a great idea.
(Michelle, my Hebrew name is Chana!)
http://pencilsandwhatnot.wordpress.com/ (Auburn) Said
on July 26th, 2010 at 1:08 pm
Your comments about a naming ceremony being much more fun than a circumcision made me laugh, Hilary! It’s so interesting reading about naming in other cultures, and I love that there’s “an explanation” of the chosen names – I feel like making an explanation compulsory would deter parents from choosing some awful names, because hopefully when saying “We thought Alliveeuh was way more unique than Olivia” they’d realise it sounded a bit silly!
on August 13th, 2010 at 11:40 am
The names you chose are beautiful. I also have loved the name Esme for years, but now that it’s so well-known through the Twilight books, I will not be using it. The thing is, no one knows what to expect as far as names being used for popular characters/events later on. My friend named her children Isabella (her nickname is Bella) and Jacob before the Twilight books even came out. And imagine having the name Katrina?
I am not Jewish, but I like the tradition of naming a child after a deceased relative, which we will do with our daughter.
on September 15th, 2010 at 12:22 pm
It took me way too long to translate that into “Chiffon Layer Cake.”
Leslie Owen Said
on April 11th, 2011 at 10:41 pm
Twenty-five years ago we had a naming ceremony for my daughter at our shul in Brooklyn, with a party at home. Our rabbi helped us write it and it was lovely, a ceremony after the service which included my first aliyah (and my first tallis — what a great day!). We named her Caitlin Louisa after my great-grandmothers Sofie Katarine and Luise, and her Hebrew name is Leah Gavriella (after grandpas George). My own Hebrew name is Michal, which I love. My son was born prematurely, so we had to put off the bris until he was three weeks old. His Hebrew name is Thomas Kalev, the English being Thomas Caleb. Nice to see this post.
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