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10 Tips for Naming a Jewish Baby, Inspired by Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett-jo

Word on the street is that Scarlett Johansson has named her baby daughter Rose.

I love this name. I’d better: It’s my second daughter’s name. And I take baby naming seriously. I have strong opinions about the names we choose for our children, because that’s what happens when your full name is Carla George Naumburg and you have to spend your entire life explaining to people that:

a) Yes, it is possible for a white girl to spell her name with a C rather than a K. (My mother is half-Italian, so calm down, people!)

b) My middle name is George, not Georgina or Georgia, or God forbid, Georgette. (My great-grandfather was the first one in his line born on American soil, on July 4, 1876, no less. His parents named him George Washington Naumburg. The George stuck in the family, and landed on me.)

c) In the name of all things holy, my last name is spelled with a “u” in the “burg,” not an “e”. (Also, if you are a fellow ***burg, please introduce yourself. I’m desperate for a kindred spirit.)

Although my name has been a bit of a clusterf*ck in a few ways, I love it dearly. I had the chance to take my husband’s last name, but I didn’t, partly because I love my own. (But mostly because his last name is hyphenated and therefore sucks only slightly more than mine in the spelling department. Also, if my in-laws are reading this, I love you guys and totally appreciate your commitment to creating an egalitarian family. Except the hyphen part.) I love my name because it reflects so many different aspects of my family story and of the Jewish-American story: my mother’s Italian family that fled Europe in the wake of WWII, my father’s German family’s attempt to assimilate into American culture, and my family’s long history in Germany and Poland before they came to the United States.

And so we have chosen similar names for our daughters; shtetl names, as we like to call them. Their first names, Frieda and Rose, can be found on both sides of the family tree, and their Italian middle names are taken from their grandmother and great-grandmother. Keeping our family story alive is important to me for many reasons, but you may have other things on your mind. Here are a few things you might want to consider if you are trying to pick the perfect baby name:

1. Start with your family trees. Go back as far as you can. Are there names that come up more than once? (My girls have three great-great-grandmothers named Rose and one named Ruth.) Are there names that strike you as particularly interesting, beautiful, or relevant?

2. Ask your parents and grandparents who they remember from the earlier generations–what do they remember about their parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles? Are there any stories that resonate with you? (Pro-tip: Don’t tell them you’re fishing for baby names; they might get their hopes up!)

3. Think about deceased family members who you want to honor. You can use their English or Hebrew names, or you can choose a name that starts with the same first letter.

4. If you don’t love any of the family names, pick a language or a culture or a country that means something to you and use that as a starting point. If the first name you choose is from a rather different culture than the last name, it’s helpful to have a good story about why you chose it. As a Carla Naumburg, I can tell you that being able to explain that my mother is Italian was a much better and tidier story than, “My Mom spent a romantic vacation on the Amalfi coast and all I got was this lousy name.”

5. Think about the artists, activists, leaders, and mentors who have inspired you. Frida Kahlo was on my mind when I was thinking about my first daughter’s name, and when I realized it was a family name as well, I knew I had found the one.

6. Think carefully about what you want to subject your children to. It may seem cool or unique to come up with a creative spelling for Laeluh or Jewdee, but please, don’t do it. Having spent my life correcting the spelling of my name, I can tell you, it’s fairly annoying. It’s not the end of the world, but if it can be avoided, it should be.

7. Please, please don’t name your child after the place she was conceived, whether it’s Aruba or Mercedes or, in our case, Clinic. Every time your child is asked about her name, she’ll be talking about her parents HAVING SEX. Just don’t do it.

8. Consider how the first name, middle name, and last name will sound together. I’ve always loved the name Naamah, but once we decided to give the girls my last name, well, Naamah Naumburg just doesn’t work. Will the names rhyme? And how do you feel about alliteration? Do the initials spell anything? Do you want them to? There’s no right answer here–whatever works for you and your parenting partner is fine, as long as you’ve thought about it ahead of time.

9. If you’re giving your child a Hebrew name, know that you have a lot of options. If your child’s first name is a Hebrew name (Shira or Aviv, for example), then you don’t need to pick an additional Hebrew name. Alternately, you can give your child a Hebraicized version of their “American” name; Eitan for Ethan or Rivkah for Rebekah. Or, you can just pick a completely different Hebrew name, which is what Josh and I did for our girls.

10. Jewish tradition recommends against sharing your baby’s name before the baby is born. (Some families even choose to wait until the baby is 8 days old.) This is excellent advice, not only because you don’t want to jinx anything, but also because you don’t actually want anyone else’s opinion on your name choices. You may think you do, but you don’t. Even if they don’t like the name now, they will once they see your beautiful little baby.

Still having trouble choosing the perfect name? There’s an app for that. Download Kveller’s free Jewish Baby Names app in the iTunes store today.


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