I know that it is not law, but custom, regarding Ashkenazim not naming babies after living relatives. However, I am very torn as I am about to have my 3rd (and last!) child. We have named our other 2 children's (English) middle names after deceased relatives. My grandmother is 85 and not doing well but we don't expect her to pass away anytime in the immediate future. I am her only grandchild and I would really like to honor her by naming our upcoming baby with her name as our baby's middle name; however I do not want to be doing something horribly wrong in other's eyes. Of course I do not wish my grandmother would die but the reality is she will at some point in the near future given her age while my child will likely live a long life and I think honoring my grandmother with her name as my child's middle name would be a special way to honor her. What do you think? My husband is fine with it but my in-laws are not sure. I am a convert (Conservative) so my family doesn't really have much input (however my grandmother is Jewish). Thank you!
As you stated from the very beginning, these customs around naming are just that—customs, and customs do change over time. A Reform Movement responsa on customs of naming does cite many instances in the Talmud where children were named for living figures; R. Nathan, a teacher of the second half of the second century, reports that in his travels he occasionally was able, by his advice, to save the lives of newborn children. The parents of those children, out of gratitude to him--and probably to suggest that their children will grow up and become men as good as R. Nathan--named their children Nathan, after him. (Chullin 49a).
But over time, the customs of naming responded to the folk superstitions of the time. In a book called Sefer HaChayim¸there is a teaching that "a man's name is his soul.” Tied up with this was the belief that one, and only one, person in possession of a certain soul identified with a special name can be living on earth. Hence, the long-standing Ashkenazi hesitance—even fear—of naming a child after a living parent or grandparent. Clearly, a superstition, but these superstitions do run deep. How comfortable do you feel with the superstitious side of you? Also, know that you will likely face some raised eyebrows and surprise should you choose to go in that direction.
I’d like to make two suggestions that might help you. First, it sounds like you should—before you do anything else—ask your grandmother how she feels about it.Or, could you imagine picking a middle name for your child that represents a quality in your grandmother that you particularly admire? Is it her strength? Her compassion? Her sense of humor? That way, you could honor your grandmother and her contribution to your life without giving your child “her” name.
B’sha-ah tovah—I wish you the best on this upcoming birth!
First - You write that your grandmother is Jewish. If she is your maternal grandmother - you never needed to convert.
The Ashkenazi custom of naming after deceased relatives is considered a great honor for loved ones who have passed away. Some believe that naming after a living person will put some sort of ayin hora - hex on the living.
Customs are important and should not just be poo-pooed. My first thought would be that one of your children will name their child after their great grandmother. A second thought would be to ask your bubby what she thinks of the idea.
Your question is a challenging one that speaks to an important issue in Judaism and Jewish life, namely, the role of minhag (custom).Though naming customs are just that, customs that have developed over time, they do reflect very strong traditions within Judaism.I am sure that you are aware of the two main minhagim; that of Sefardic Jews who name after living relatives as a sign of honor and Ashkenazic Jews who perpetuate the memory of those who have passed away.
Though it would not be ‘wrong’ to name your daughter after your grandmother, these customs have been used for centuries and help to maintain certain Jewish values which are of great importance.Yes, it is ironic, to say the least, that these two traditions are exactly the opposite of each other, one naming for those who are living and the other for those who have are no longer here.Nevertheless, they do speak to important dimensions of Jewish life.
You mentioned that your in-laws are unsure about following the Sefardic tradition and though this is ultimately not their decision, I would not want there to be a rift between you and them, especially on such a happy occasion.At the same time, you don’t mention how your grandmother feels about this.To my mind, this is an even more important factor in your decision.Is it something that might offend her or would she consider it an honor?
If I might offer a suggestion that could perhaps help to maintain the integrity of the Ashkenazic tradition while honoring your grandmother in some way, perhaps you could choose a Hebrew name that expresses an inner quality of hers that you wish to honor; for example, ‘Yafa’ which means beautiful, ‘Ahuva’, love, or ‘Tovah’, good. There are many Hebrew naming books which can assist you and I would certainly enlist your rabbi in giving you other suggestions.Whatever you decide, you certainly have your heart in the right place and most importantly, I wish you ‘b’sha’ah tovah’ (everything should take place at an appropriate time), that you and your child to be should be healthy and well.
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