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FAQ about Jewish Naming Customs

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Q: Why is it important to give my Jewish baby a Hebrew name in addition to an English name?

A: Certain religious rituals require Hebrew names. Hebrew names are used for calling people to the Torah. Certain prayers, such as the memorial prayer or the prayer for the sick, use the Hebrew name. Legal documents, such as the marriage contract or ketubah, also use the Hebrew name.

Orthodox Jews and Israelis often give their children a Hebrew name, and that name is used for both everyday and religious purposes.

Elsewhere it has become customary for Jewish parents to give their children two names - a secular name for use in the gentile world and a Hebrew name for religious purposes.

Q: How do I choose a Hebrew name for my baby?

A: Often parents choose Hebrew names that start with the same letter as the secular name. For instance, Blake's Hebrew name might be Boaz and Lindsey's might be Leah. Sometimes the secular name is an interpretation of the Hebrew name, like Jonah for Yonah and Eva for Chava. And sometimes there is no connection between the Hebrew and secular names; My parents gave me the English name of Lisa because they like it, and the Hebrew name of Sara in memory of my great-grandmother.

The two main sources for Hebrew names for today's Jewish babies are older Biblical names and modern Israeli names. This online resource on Hebrew names can help you in choosing a Hebrew name.

Q: Can Ashkenazi Jews name a child after a living relative?

A: It has become an Ashkenazi custom to name a new baby after a relative that has passed away. This keeps the name and memory alive, and in a metaphysical way forms a bond between the soul of the baby and the deceased relative. However, it is by no means forbidden to give a child the same name as a living relative. The living relative should be asked permission.

Q: Can Sephardi Jews name a child after a living relative?

A: The Sephardic tradition is to name new babies after living relatives (source: Talmud Shabbat 134a).

Q: Should we consider our parents wishes when choosing a name for our child?

A: In such matters a person does not have to consider his parents' wish, if he opposes it strongly and has good reason to object (source: "Code of Jewish Law" Y.D. 240:25).

Q: My sibling already named a child after my grandmother. Can we "share" the honor of naming him after my grandmother, or do we need to pick another name.

A: You can definitely name after the grandmother, even though others may have already honored her memory by doing so. This is a great honor to the deceased, because its soul can achieve an elevation based on the good deeds of the namesake. The child, meanwhile, can be inspired by the good qualities of the deceased -- and make a deep connection to the past.

Q: I am an adult who was never given a Jewish name. Can I give myself a Jewish name?

A: Yes. The new name can be established by friends calling you and referring to you as such, for at least thirty days (source: "Code of Jewish Law" E.H. 129: "Bet Shmuel" 33 there; "Igrot Moshe" by R' M. Feinstein, E.H. IV 104).

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