Torah For Today: Baby names

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Torah For Today: Baby names

Rabbi Garry Wayland takes a topical issue and applies an Orthodox response

Meghan and Prince Harry
Meghan and Prince Harry

The top 100 names for girls and boys for 2021 have been revealed, with quite a few Hebrew names topping the list, including David, Asher, Jacob and Isaac. So, what does the Torah say about names we give our children?

“May the One who blessed our forefathers bless the mother and her child born to her at an auspicious time, and he or she shall be called in Israel…!” 

These words are the traditional formula by which Jewish girls are named either in synagogue after the Torah reading or boys after their brit milah (circumcision). 

In many circles, the custom is for parents to not reveal the name to anyone – even closest family – until that point and the excited tension is palpable as people try to catch the name.

Some parents would have spent the best part of the pregnancy debating or deliberating; some wait for birth to see their new child; whereas others may only settle on a name just before the public pronouncement.

Names are significant. Elon Musk and Grimes (real name Claire Boucher) made headlines when they named their son with the unusual moniker X Æ A-12 (later renamed X AE A-XII). Meanwhile, in naming their daughter Lilibet Diana, Prince Harry and Meghan (pictured) were making a statement about their relationship with the Queen. 

The impact of a name is felt most keenly by the person themselves. People name their children for all sorts of reasons: in honour of departed family members, after role models or inspirational figures. 

On the other hand, a name that was a fad or frivolous can affect the well-being of the child for years; judges have blocked names such as Nutella (banned in France), Robocop (US) and Cyanide and Preacher (twins in Wales). 

Jewish tradition teaches names are not just symbolic: they are a reflection of the soul. As such, parents are given a spark of divine inspiration upon naming their children. 

When naming our children after ancestors, great heroes from the Torah or Jewish history, we are giving honour to their memory, expressing our appreciation for who they were, but also expressing our inner prayers that the child should grow up with the very best of what they represented. 

  • Rabbi Garry Wayland is a teacher and educator for US Living and Learning

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