ואלה שמות בני ישראל הבאים מצרימה את יעקב איש וביתו באו- שמות א:א
“And these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt; with Jacob, each man and his household came.”
Naming The Baby
Our sages stress that the name of a person can affect his actions for the good or G-d forbid for the worse, (refer to Medrash Haazinu 7, Gemara Brachos 7b and Yoma 83b) [clearly one is able to overcome a bad name and cannot rely on a virtuous name alone, rather, one must strive to act in the most righteous way possible by doing mitzvos and learning Torah].
The Sefer Bris Avos (8:47) cites the Arizal as saying, “It is a mere misconception that a parent names a child arbitrarily. Rather, it is with Divine inspiration. For it is known before Him the purpose and (eventual) actions of the child, be it for the good or for the bad, all of which are concealed in his name. Each letter of the name reveals more and more about the person. Even if one finds an evil person with a name destined for the righteous, it is clear that contained in him is a small spark of goodness”.
It is clearly evident that naming a child is a great responsibility and not something to be done lightly. We will now discuss the more practical issues related to naming a child.
Section 1- Who Chooses The Name
1) The right to name the child belongs to the parents of the child and to them alone. No other person (grandparents etc.) should get involved in the naming of the child. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l (Likutei Sichos vol. 12 page 182) writes, “As for her question regarding a suggestion as to what to name the child that was born, may he live. The Response of my father in law, the Rebbe, on this matter is known: He does not get involved in these matters. [This lack of involvement] is understood in light of the Arizal’s words that parents are given the thought from Above as to what to name the boy or girl that is born, a name connected to this child’s soul, so that the letters of the name are connected to the life force of the sould and body.”
2) The common custom is that the parents do not reveal the name to others until the baby is formally named, the boy at the bris and. refer to Section 2 as to when the girl is formally named. Rav Sarya Deblitzky zt”l explains that the reason that the name is not revealed to others is out of concern of ayin hara. (Shu”t Avnei Yashfei vol. 1 196:6)
3) As noted above, both the father and the mother have the right to decide the name of the child. Whose side of the family should name the first child, and any subsequent children, is dependent on custom:
4) Sephardic Custom– The Sephardic custom has always been to name the first child from the father’s side of the family and the next child from the mother’s side and it continues with this pattern.
5) Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yabia Omer 5 Y.D. 21), citing Rishonim, points to the naming of Yehuda’s children in Sefer Breishis as the source of this custom. The Torah records that Yehuda named his first son (Er), and his wife named the second son (Onan). Thus it is evident that the first child is named by the father and the second by the mother. Although, the Torah mentions that his wife named the third son as well, the Daas Zekeinim Mibaalei Hatosafos points out that the Torah specifically tells us that Yehuda was out of town at the time of the naming of his third child and was therefore unable to name him. If both parents are present, however, it seems that they should alternate naming the children, with the father naming the first child.
6) Interestingly, the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l was asked what is the proper order for naming children and he explains that if there is no set custom in the locale, one should follow the custom of the Rishonim, cited above, that the first child is named by the father, the second by the mother and so on. (Likutei Sichos vol. 7 page 308)
7) The Ben Ish Chai (Year 2 Shoftim 27) maintains that even if the father wishes to forgo the honor and wishes to let the wife name the first baby after the mother’s side, he may not do so. However, Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that if the paternal grandfather is willing to forgo the honor, they may name the baby after the maternal grandfather. Such as the maternal grandfather was a rabbi etc. This is especially so when the need to maintain shalom bayis is at play. For practical halacha, a competent rabbi should be consulted.
8) According to this custom if the child is given two names, one after the father’s side and one after the mother’s side, the name after the father’s side should be used first.
9) Ashkenazic Custom– The current Ashkenazic custom is that the mother’s side of the family has the rights to the first name. (Refer to Hamaor Year 5732 vol. 2, Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:101 and Shearim Hametzuyanim B’Halacha 163:22)
10) One reason given for this custom is that the bond between a daughter and her parents is weakened by her marriage because she leaves their home and now has responsibilities to her husband. Indeed, this weakened bond manifests itseld in the halacha that a married woman is no longer obligated in the mitzvah of kibud av v’em as it may interfere with her responsibilities toward her husband. In order to strengthen this newly weakened bond, the first child is named from the mother’s side of the family. (Kovetz Noam 13 page 294)
11) Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a offers a second reason for this custom. He explains that since the mother just went through a painful delivery process, she is given the rights of the naming of the first child in order to help ease the pain. (Halichos Ketanim Uketanos page 31)
12) According to this custom if the child is given two names, one after the father’s side and one after the mother’s side, the name after the mother’s side should be used first.
13) Despite the various customs, cited above, great should be taken that no arguments arise when naming the baby and that both the husband and wife are happy with the decision.
Section 2: When Do We Name The Child
14) Naming A Boy– It is well known that the custom is to name the boy at the Bris. This custom is sourced in the Rishonim. (Siddur Rokeach page 728) The reason for this is that only after the baby is in his perfected state, after the removal of the orlah (foreskin), is the baby prepared to receive his Jewish name. (Chesed L’Avraham 2:52)
15) The poskim discuss what to do if a child is ill and will not be able to have the bris on time at 8 days: A) The Sefer Chemudei Daniel is of the opinion that if a child is ill and will not have a bris for weeks, one may give him a name before the bris. (Zicharon Bris L’Rishonim 12) According to the Chamudei Daniel one should name the baby before he is 8 days old, while the Sefer Kores Bris maintains one should name before the bris, but after the baby is 8 days old. Indeed, there were rabbanim who endorsed naming an ill baby before the bris so that the baby will have a name that others can use when davening for his recovery. (Kovetz Assia vol. 4 page 244) Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l and the Satmar Rebbe zt”l are also cited as advising one to give an ill child a name, even before the bris. B) Harav Shach zt”l is cited as ruling that one should only name the baby before the bris if the baby is in a life threatening situation. However, if the bris is postponed because the baby’s bilirubin levels are high, however, the baby is not in a life threatening situation, one should not name the baby before the bris. C) The Steipler Gaon zt”l is cited as ruling that one should never name the baby before the bris. According to the Steipler Gaon zt”l if one wishes to daven for the baby one would pray for “tinok (child) ben plonis.”
16) Harav Binyamin Zilber zt”l (Az Nidberu 13:73) writes that if one follows the view that one may name the baby before the bris milah, then during the bris one may follow the normal procedure, including the words “Vayikareh Shemo B’Yisrael” (he shall be named) even though no additional name is added. However, Harav Shmuel Wosner zt”l is cited as ruling that it would be preferred to add a name at the bris since one is declaring “Vayikareh Shemo B’Yisrael.” (Netai Gavriel Nidah vol. 3 page 588)
17) Naming A Girl– The custom is to name the girl when the father receives an aliyah to the Torah. The Gabbai recites a special Mi Sheberach and the baby is formally named.
18) There are various customs as to when to name the baby girl, however, there are primarily two approaches:
A) The view of the Bnei Yisasschar was to name the baby at the first Torah reading after the birth, even if that is a Monday or Thursday, and one does not wait for Shabbos. (Minchas Yitzchak 4:107) This is also the view of the Minchas Elazar of Munkatch zt”l and is followed by Munkatcher Chassidim. (Darchei Chaim V’Shalom 219) This is also the custom of Chabad, Ziditshov, and Spinka Chassidim. [Similarly, according to the custom of Chabad Chassidim, if a mother gives birth on Shabbos morning after Shachris, the father will name the baby at Mincha.]
B) While others name the baby at the Torah reading on the first Shabbos after birth. As it states in the Sefer Ben Uziel Parshas Shemos, “I have heard in the name of Rav Yechezkal of Shinova zt”l that he was particular not to name a girl during the week, rather only to do so on Shabbos. He explained that the reason being that a baby boy receives his holy neshama at the bris milah, however, a baby girl receives her holy neshama on Shabbos.” The Avnei Nezer is also as cited as being very particular that one name a girl on Shabbos. (Siach Sarfei Kodesh 3:283) This is also the practice of many chassidim, including Siget, Satmar, Tchernobel, Sanz, Ger, Amshinov, Bialeh and Belz. This is also the custom of many sefardim.
19) The custom of Belz is that they name on Shabbos. However, if the baby is born on Friday, they will wait and name the baby the following Shabbos (8 days later).
20) The custom of Sanz and Babov is to name the baby on Shabbos. This is true even if during the week is Yom Tov, they still wait for Shabbos.
21) Harav Gavriel Zinner shlit”a writes that all agree that if a baby girl is born ill and requires others to daven for her health that one should name her right away and one need not wait for a day that the Torah is read.
Section 3: Naming After Family Members
22) There is an age old custom, dating back to the times of the Tenaim, to name one’s child after one’s family members (such as grandfather etc.). (Yalkut Yosef Kibud Av V’Em vol 2 ch. 8)
23) The poskim explain that when the parent’s of the baby name the baby after their parents or grandparents they are fulfilling the mitzvah of kibud av v’em. (Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:501) The reason for this is that the name of a child is connected to his soul and when one names a child after someone one is connecting that person’s soul to the soul of a child. It is for this reason that we do not name a child after an evil person (as we shall discuss in the next section). Therefore, when one chooses to name the child after a family member, such as a grandfather, one is, in essence, requesting that the child become connected to that family member. This clearly is a great sign of honor and when naming after one’s grandparent would thereby be considered an act of kibud av v’em for the parents.
24) In addition, there is a practice among many to name a child after a great rabbi and tzaddik. This practice is especially prevalent in chassidic circles. Indeed, the Gemara Bava Metzia 84b states that Rabbi Eliezer Ben Rebbi Shimon one day arrived at the Beis Medrash and had to rule on blood stains from sixty different women. After analysis of each stain, he determined that all of the women were tahor and therefore permitted to be with their husbands without having to immense in a mikvah first. The women all went home, conceived and subsequently gave birth to male children, all of whom were named Eliezer after the great Tanna.
25) The poskim discuss whether a parent should give precedence to naming the child after a rabbi or religious leader, or a family member. Harav Menashe Klein zt”l discusses this issue and he rules that one should give precendence to his family members. He writes that the author of the Macheneh Chaim wrote a letter to the author of Divrei Yirmiyahu stating that he regrets promising his rebbi (the author of Shaarei Torah) that he would name his son after him. He explains that there are important kabbalistic reasons to specifically name a child after a family member. He adds that, indeed, the Chasam Sofer who had a very close relationship with his rebbi, Rav Nosson Adler zt”l, did not name any of his sons after his rebbi, even though Rav Nosson Adler had no children who could perpetuate his name. Therefore, concludes Rav Menashe Klein zt”l, one should give precedence to naming a child after family members, more so than after a rabbi. This is also the view of Harav Binyamin Zilber zt”l. (Az Nidberu 13:72)
Section 4: Naming Boys After Girls And Vice Verca
26) Naming Female After Male- The poskim discuss whether one may name a baby girl after a man, such as naming a girl Mindy after a male relative Mendy. The Sefer Sharbit Hazahav (8:37) writes, “Regarding naming a girl after a male (for example a male named Simcha passed away and they now wish to name a baby girl Simcha after him or a male named Baruch passed away and they wish to name a girl Beracha after him) one should avoid doing so. This is especially so according to the mekubalim who explain that a person’s name is closely connected to his soul and the baby’s soul is connected to his namesake. Therefore, if one names a girl after a man, he is connecting this young girl’s soul to that of a man, which in turn can make it difficult for her to have children.”
27) Indeed, the majority of poskim, including Harav Eliezer Deutsch zt”l, Harav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg zt”l and Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, were not in favor of those that name girls after men. However, some poskim, including the Ragotchover Gaon zt”l, permitted naming a girl after a boy. For practical halacha, a rabbi should be consulted.
28) Naming Male After Female– Although most poskim were not in favor of naming a female after a male, however, the poskim have no objection to naming a male after a female. Indeed, this was the custom in many locales. For examples, if a female named Dina passed away, they would name a baby boy Dan after her.
Section 5: Naming After One Who Died Young or Tragically r”l
29) Introduction- The Maharshal (Yam Shel Shlomo Gittin 4:31) writes that one should not name a child after a person that had “bad mazal” (rei’ah mazlei). He therefore writes that one should not call a child Yeshayahu, but rather Yishayah, since the prophet Yishayahu suffered a violent death, whereas the name Yishayah, mentioned in Divrei Hayamim (one of the books of the Bible) has no such negative connotations.
30) However the Beit Shmuel (E.H. 129 Shemos 10) writes that the Ramah argues on this as he says that one should write in a divorce document Gedalyahu (if one is called by that name) and not Gedalya, despite the fact that Gedalyahu ben Achikam, the leader of the Jews after the destruction of the First Temple, was murdered. Therefore, according to the Beis Shmuel, whether one may name after one who was murdered or died young would be a matter of argument between the Maharshal and the Rama.
31) However, the Chasam Sofer (2 E.H. 25) is of the opinion that all agree that one may not name after one who has “bad mazal.” Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe Y.D. 2:122) rules that one should act stringently in accordance with the view of the Chasam Sofer.
32) If one wishes to name after one who had “bad mazal” the poskim offer three possible heterim to avoid any potential halachic issues: A) One should change the name slightly from that of the person with “bad mazal.” This is indeed the reason that the poskim say that the name Akiva should be spelled with the “hei” at the end of the name, even though Rav Akiva spelled his name with an “aleph” at the ending. The Chasam Sofer cites those who explain the shift in this spelling as being due to “rei’ah mazlei.” Even though Rebbe Akiva lived a noble life and was willing to die for yiddeshkeit, due to his tragic end we would need to make a change in the name before applying it to our children. B) If one cannot make a slight change to the name, one may name a child after the deceased person who had bad mazal as long as he adds an additional name, so that the child has two names. C) A third solution was given by the Steipler Gaon zt”l. He was asked whether a father can name a child after someone who died young. He explains that when the father says the name at the bris he should concentrate that if the chosen name would not be successful, then the child should really be named after a tzaddik who shares the same name. Therefore, if the name of the deceased was Yaakov, then the father should think that if naming after the deceased will not be successful for the child. the child is being named after Yaakov Avinu, or any tzaddik named Yaakov.
33) One Who Was Killed As A Martyr– It is thus clear that one should not name one’s child after one who was murdered, unless employing one of the three aformentioned solutions, as that person had a “bad mazal.”
34) The poskim add that the same is true if a person was killed because he was a Jew. Although such a person is a tzaddik that has the great merit of giving one’s life for Hashem, it still would fall under the category of one who has “bad mazal.” It is for this reason that we change the spelling of the name “Akiva” (as explained earlier) because Rav Akiva was killed. Even though he was killed for being a jew (al kiddush Hashem), yet we still need to make a change in the name before applying it to our children.
35) The question that many ask is whether one may name after someone who perished in the Holocaust. Is there any reason to allow this or is this also an issue of rei’ah mazley. The Satmar Rebbe zt”l and Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l are cited as ruling that if one wishes to name after someone who perished in the holocaust one should add a name in order to avoid issues of rei’ah mazlei. (Beis Vaad L’Chachamim Elul vol. 5 page 356)
36) However, some poskim, including Harav Yitzchak Oelbaum zt”l and ybc”l Harav Moshe Shternbuch shlit”a, offer a permissive view regarding naming after those that were killed in the Holocaust. They explain that that since this was a cataclysm which affected the entire Jewish nation and not just individuals, it could not be considered bad luck to name for those holy individuals who perished in the Holocaust. For normative halacha, a rabbi should be consulted.
37) Naming After One Who Died Young R”l– Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l discusses whether one may name a child after one who died young r”l and he writes that although there may be an issue with doing so, it is difficult to ascertain at which age is dying young a sign of bad mazal. Since there were many great tzaddikim that died relatively young. An example would be Shmuel Hanavi and Shlomo Hamelech who lived to the age of 52 and many name their children after these great tzaddikim without concern. Rav Moshe is hesitant to give a specific age, however, he does write that if the young person died childless, one should not give the same name but rather add another name.
38) The Minchas Elazar of Munkatch zt”l (Darchei Chaim V’Shalom 929) was of the opinion that one should not a name a child after one who died below the age of fifty, unless one adds a name and the additional name should be before the name of the deceased.
39) Harav Yaakov Kamanetzky zt”l is cited as putting the cut-off age at sixty. (Ziv Hasheimos ch. 15)
40) Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l and ybc”l Harav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a explain that the above concern, of naming after one who died young, does not apply when naming after the baby’s grandparent. Naming one’s child after one’s own parent is part of the Mitzvah of honoring your father and mother. Therefore, this overrides the traditional concern of naming after someone who died young.
Section 6: Naming After The Living
41) Ashkenazic Custom– The custom amongst Ashkenazik Jews is not to name a child after the living. Therefore, a parent may not name the child after the child’s grandfather if the grandfather is still alive. (Sefer Chassidim 460)
42) One of the reasons given for this is that since the common custom is to name children after parents or grandparents who are no longer alive. To name a child after a living person gives the impression that one wishes they were dead, Chas V’Shalom.
43) One should avoid doing so even if the grandparent doesn’t share the exact name of the child. Therefore, one should not name the child Menachem Mendel if that is the name of the grandparent, even if the grandparent is actually named Yosef Menachem Mendel. (Ziv Hasheimos ch. 10)
44) Although one does not name after the living, especially after a grandparent, the custom is to allow one to give a child the same name as the baby’s uncle or aunt.
45) Sefardic Custom– The custom amongst Sefardic Jews is to name after the grandparents even if they are alive. In addition, they feel that this is an act of honor for the grandparent and a segulah for the grandparent to have a long life.
46) Even amongst the Sefardim one should not name the child the same name as the child’s father.