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May 4 2012

Choosing a Name: Too Goyish vs. Too… Biblical

By at 9:35 am

Figuring out a name took us a while...

Now that we’re nearing the sixth month of our pregnancy, my husband and I finally feel safe enough to try to settle on a name. I had suffered a miscarriage with my last pregnancy and didn’t want to do ANYTHING prematurely this time around. So, around month four, we started thinking about names for both boys and girls.

First came the issue of whether or not we were going to give the baby a Jewish name. We’re an interfaith couple, but my husband has no strong ties to any religion and 99% of the time defers to Judaism when it comes to life law, at least as long as we’ve been together (10+ years). That pretty much means that he’s never been a regular church-goer in his childhood, and always comes with me to High Holy Days, Passover, and the occasional Shabbat service.

I myself am a Reform Jew, so while I’m totally Jewish, I didn’t necessarily want to lobby for a Hebrew name–especially after watching Freakonomics and getting scared silly that any sort of ethnicity in my future child’s name would forever make it impossible for him/her to get a job in the future. I know that’s a stupid fear to have, but it also gave me another reason not to name my kid the same five names found in every Hebrew schoolAdam, David, Daniel, Jacob, or Noah. Not that those names aren’t fabulous, but they’re used so often. Plus, I already have living family members with four out five of those names. But I didn’t want to totally abandon Jewish tradition when it came to the name. So, we went with the Jewish traditional “dead relative” route–choosing the first initials of my dead grandparents and going from there.

Working with the initials really helped narrow things down. But there were still TONS of names to choose from. We were looking for some sort of derivation of Carol, Leo, or Murray–even though there was no way I was ever going to name my baby Murray, the letter M has MANY possibilities!

Here’s where the cultural disparity came into play. My husband would suggest names like Luke and Michael, to which I would shriek, “NO! Too goyish!” Then I would suggest names like Mordechai and Leah, to which he would be shriek, “NO! Too biblical!” (NOTE: Being my man for over a decade, he knows that the phrase “NO! Too Jewish!” cannot come from him!). This continued for some time, until we finally found a few names here and there that we liked, but never really settled on anything concrete.

This back and forth banter went on until last week, when we finally learned the sex of our little fetus–no penis, so it’s a girl! That cut the names down by half (buh-bye Miles Lee, which I was just starting to love). The name for a girl had always been Carolyn, which I love, with the middle name maybe being Leigh (which is a bit too goyish for my tastes).  We changed Leigh to Leona–which isn’t really Jewish, per se, but IS a female derivative of my Grandpa Leo’s name. So, thus far, it’s going to be Carolyn Leona… unless we change our minds again, which is very likely.

My husband never knew my grandparents Carol & Leo, but they both survived Auschwitz and were two of the strongest people I know. My baby’s name might not be totally Jewish, and her Daddy has never officially converted, but she’s going to have the blood of survivors running through her veins, and what’s more Jewish than that?


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