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Sunday, April 24, 2011

What's In A Name?

Many bris speeches tend to focus on explaining the name that has been given to the baby.

Often enough he is named for a family member who has passed on, such as a grandparent or great grandparent, or an uncle or some other distant relative. Some families opt to name a boy after a grandmother - obviously he is not given the woman's name, but he may be given the same first initial. Grandma Nettie will become Natan. Great-Aunt Shirley will become Shlomo.

At its core, the practice is simple. Carry on a name, retain a heritage.

On a deeper level, we fondly recall those who are gone when we think about the name we have given this child, and we hope the name, and all it represents to us, will be embodied by the child who now carries it.
 If grandpa was a selfless being, we hope the child will be a selfless being. If great uncle always had a smile on his face, we hope this child will always have such a fine quality.

If grandma looked out for the poor and was so considerate and thoughtful, we hope the child will carry this characteristic in his interactions with others, and with the needy in particular.

But Judaism also views the name itself as highly significant. While the power is invested in the parents to give the child his name, there are metaphysical understandings that the cosmos are somehow behind the name which is chosen and given to the baby.

Have you ever met a person named Simcha who had the simple ability to make people happy?
Know anyone name Chaim who is full of life?
A woman named Chana who embodies charm and making others feel good?
Have you ever heard someone say "He looks like a David"? What does that mean?

A baby's parents are blessed with a unique opportunity to give a child a name he will carry for the rest of his life. They don't usually take it lightly - sometimes it is a wonderful discussion, sometimes it is a small debate, and sometimes sparks fly.

Hopefully you will come to realize that whatever name you ultimately decide upon is not an accident. Whether it is for a relative or just a name you happen to like, it will play a significant role in your child's development - in his character, personality, and the person he ends up becoming.


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