Choosing a Name

Naming your son is one of the most important decisions you will make in his life. Your son's name becomes his identity. It is the way he will be known by family and friends, the way he will know himself.

The Talmud teaches that a name has a spiritual influence, hence it is imperative that much thought goes into choosing a name. Customarily in Ashkenazic circles, names are chosen for departed relatives or friends. It is important to choose a name after a person who had good character, a pleasant personality, and in general had a good life. In Sephardic circles, names are often chosen from living family members with the aforementioned qualities taken into consideration as well.

Today in America, most boys are given two names. Parents can choose a name because they like its sound or meaning or they may chose to name their son after one or two people. A boy can be named after a woman and a girl can be named after a man.

When choosing Hebrew names, it is proper to use the exact name of the person that the child is being named after or, in the case of a male name from a female name, to use as many of the Hebrew letters as possible from the original name. For example, in naming a boy after a woman Malkah - the male choice would be Melech as the letters Mem, Lamed, and Kuf are the same in both names. You could also use names like Meir for Malkah (the Mem is the same) or Moshe (the Mem and the Hai are the same). I am happy to answer any questions about names either before or after the birth of your child.

People often ask if one is allowed to use the name of a person who died young. There are divergent views on this sensitive matter. Rabbi Moshe Feinstien, one of the greatest hallachic (Jewish law) authorities in our generation, ruled that if a person was married and had children, it makes no difference at what age he or she died, provided they died naturally (i.e., old age or even middle age because of ill health.) They are considered to have lived a full life and accomplished what they were meant to accomplish. They are not to be considered among those who had a bad mazel (fortune) in life. However, if a person died unnaturally, Rabbi Feinstein suggests that the name be altered. (See Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 122, 5733/1973 edition.)

My own father, Rabbi Abraham Z. Krohn of blessed memory, passed away when he was merely 47, yet many children in our family have been named after him.

Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky, another great hallachic authority, ruled that a second name or only a few of the letters of the Hebrew name should be used if the person whom the baby is being named after passed away before the age of 60.

It is easier for the child if his Hebrew and English names are phonetically related. A boy being named Scott is more likely to remember his Hebrew name if it also begins with an 'S.' In this case, Simcha (happiness), Sholom (peace), or Shmuel (G-dGod listened) would be appropriate choices. It could be difficult for a boy named Max to remember his Hebrew name if it were Yaakov, Ezra, or Avrohom. Suitable Hebrew names for Max would be Moshe, Meir, Mordechai, or any other name that begins with a 'Mem.'

Years ago, at a bris in Long Island, a father told me he was naming his son Justin. Then, he added: "You will never guess what name I am using as a second name for him." He was right. I would have never guessed - he used Time. That's right, he named his son Justin Time. I wonder what would have happened had he asked his son about those names before the bris?

Choose wisely, it is a lifetime decision.

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