choosing a name

Jewish Naming Practices

There are many ways to choose a Jewish-themed name.

A child’s name is significant in forming her identity; going through life as either Mackenzie or Maayan will probably affect her in many ways. Luckily, Jewish tradition offers some guidelines for how to choose a meaningful name. All of these fall under the banner of custom or tradition–not law–so feel free to view the suggestions below as just that: suggestions. Pick what works for you.

One Name or Two?

Perhaps you–like many parents of Jewish kids in America–are looking to give your child both an English name and a Jewish name. You might want those names to be somehow connected (either by their meaning or their sound), or you might not be too concerned with making them “match.”

Either way, it’s helpful to think about when exactly you plan to use the Jewish name (most likely a Hebrew name, though you might choose one that is Yiddish or Ladino). If your child’s Jewish name will mostly be used in synagogue contexts, you might not be too concerned with how pronounceable it will be for kids on the playground. But if you plan to use your child’s Jewish name more regularly–or make it his only name–you might want to consider whether certain sounds will make his life complicated.

Naming After Relatives

You might have heard that Jews do not name their babies for living people. While this is true in most communities of Ashkenazic Jews (Jews of Central and Eastern European origin), the opposite is the case among Sephardic Jews (Jews of Iberian or Middle-Eastern origin), who often choose to name children after living relatives.

In fact, many Sephardic grandparents look forward to being honored with grandchildren who bear their own names while they are still alive to see it. 

Among both Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews, there is a custom to name a child after someone, usually a family member, who has died. The usual explanation for this practice is that the parents hope that in receiving the name of an admired family member, the child will emulate in life the virtues of the deceased namesake. To a certain extent, too, it is believed that the soul of the loved one lives on in the child who now bears his name. Indeed, learning about the people for whom they are named is an excellent way for children to identify with the history of their own Jewish families and, by extension, with the history of the whole Jewish people.

Naming After–With a Twist

While you might be happy to give your daughter the Yiddish name Shaindel, which belonged to your beloved grandmother, some parents today choose to  modernize, or at least tweak, the original name of the person they’re honoring. Here are some of the more popular practices:

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