Choosing a Name

by Yonason Doria based on the teachings of Rav Chaim Kanievsky in the sefer “Shaimos Ba’aretz”

One of the first decisions to make following the birth of a child is what to name your new bundle of joy. The Rashba explains that a name is a sign of something that is meant to have permanence in the world. Of course, we always have to pray for our children to have long healthy lives, but many don’t realize that, spiritually, our names can have a strong effect on whom we become. The Midrash Tanchuma (P’ Haazinu) teaches that one should be careful to choose a name for his child that will lead him to become a tzaddik (righteous person) because a name can sometimes cause good or bad. The Arizal relayed that the name that a child receives from the parents is written on the Holy Throne, and that child is not only called by that name in this world, but also in the spiritual worlds above. So how do you choose?

First off, if you are trying to get creative, it may be a good idea to first ask your rabbi. According to Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlit”a, if a name does not have a source from previous generations, whether it be from the Torah, the Prophets, or at least from several generations ago, it may not be considered to be a name at all. This can be of major significance when it comes to praying on behalf of the child or writing their name in an official document such as a tenaim or kesuba. For this reason it is also important to remember the exact name and spelling that you chose when first naming your child. For example, Yishaya and Yishayahu are two different names even though they both refer to the same person in Tenach.

Early rabbinical sources indicate that naming after a holy person whom has passed on can bring nachos ruach (spiritual joy) to the niftar and others say it is also good for the newborn. To name after a deceased parent can be a fulfillment of the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents. However, if the person experienced a lot of suffering or died at a young age, it may be advised not to name after them or give another name in addition to the original name. A rabbinic authority should be consulted in such a case.

Many Sephardic Jews have the custom to name after living relatives, but it is advised that Ashkenazic Jews should not do so. In addition, Rav Chaim Kanievsky says that it is not proper for a Sephardi to name after a living Ashkenazi rabbi, although it is known that Rav Shach zt”l and Rav Elyashiv zt”l agreed to have sephardi children named after them during their lifetimes.

The Ramban writes that a boy should not be named before his bris and some are very strict to not reveal the chosen name beforehand. A girl should be named at the first time possible at which the Torah is read in public.

The common custom nowadays is that, due to her endurance of the birth pangs, the mother receives the merit to choose the name of the couple’s first child. The Chazon Ish, amongst others, says that there is an inyan to name a child based on the parsha or holiday during which they are born (e.g. Mordechai for a boy born on Purim)

The implications of a child’s name last a lifetime. It is important to put thought into choosing a proper name halachically and spiritually. Whatever name you choose, it is a good idea to have a Jewish authority check it to ensure that it is a fitting name.

G-d willing, your baby’s name should bring blessing and success, materially and spiritually.