Baby Naming Customs

Read about being a Mom of 12. Our 'Supermom" shares her wise parenting advice.

Bridging the Gap

As a mother of 12, I have had a great deal of experience in naming babies. You'd think that with so many names that exist in the world, it would be a breeze to pick one that would satisfy all and sundry. Still, I discovered that despite the wealth of names from which a prospective parent can choose, one of the greatest challenges I would encounter was my inability to bridge the gap between using the names I liked and using the names my family expected me to use because of particular family customs.

It all started with my first child, a girl. I had lost my father at the tender age of 13, and the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition is to name babies after deceased loved ones. My mother and her extended family expected that I would name my daughter a name that began with the letter G, since my late father's name was George.

However, according to my rabbi, there were two problems inherent in this naming custom. First of all, my baby was a girl. Naming a girl after a male might confuse her soul. Then, too, there was the fact that my father had died at a young age. Naming a baby after him might be considered to be bad luck for the baby.

The names in the tree were just dreadful

Thus, I began thinking about the names of late females in my family, since the custom was to allow the mother to name the first child after her family. Alas, the names in the tree were just dreadful—the names sounded harsh and unmusical to my ears. I discovered that I preferred boys' names over girls' names. But I was having a girl, and choose a name, I must.

Everyone, after all, comes from Adam and Eve

I began to think about the fact that the custom of naming a baby after a family member was about honoring the memory of someone we respect. With that in mind, and thinking about the fact that everyone, after all, comes from Adam and Eve and the subsequent generations that sprang from their loins, I decided to name my daughter after a female figure in the Bible for whom I had great admiration. I had had two friends in high school that bore this name, and I liked and looked up to both of them. If, as our rabbi suggested, the name embodied the spirit of the child, this name represented the spirit I wanted my daughter to have.

Of course, when we announced with pride, our newborn daughter's name, my mother and her family were stymied and hurt that I hadn't used a formulation of my late father's name. An aunt commented, "They're smart. They don't care what anyone thinks. They just name their baby whatever they want."