This week at the J Early Childhood Center we talked about names. Many toddlers are able to tell their name and even the names of some of their friends. By the 3s and pre-K, many children know their first and middle names (and how about knowing what a nickname is and where it came from!). Jewish tradition teaches that each of us has three names: “the one we are given at birth, the one we are called, and our real name. The challenge is to discover our real name.” So what is our “real name”? It is the name we make for ourselves by our deeds and how we live our lives.
It is so important for parents to share the stories of family names with their children. My best memory is the story of how my mother chose my name. That was the story I wanted to hear over and over again when I was a little girl because it was special — our names are special! Spend some time together sharing the stories of the names of all the members of the family.
The Torah is full of names and many of them are popular ones for children today. Sometimes Biblical names describe something about the person, such as Isaac (Yitzhak) which means laughter and came from when Sarah laughed on learning that she was going to have a child at age 90. Today many Jewish children in the United States have their “secular” name and a Hebrew name. Jews of Ashkenazi, or eastern European, descent, name children only after relatives who have passed away while the Sephardi Jews name children after living relatives — this can be a challenge in an Ashkenazi/Sephardi “mixed” marriage.
After the name (or names) has been chosen, we wait for the big announcement. Jewish tradition is that a boy’s name is not announced until his brit — that is eight days to call that baby something different. For a girl, the tradition is for the father to name his daughter on the first Shabbat after her birth when he is called to the Torah for an honor. Today, boy or girl, traditional or not, it is always a time for celebration.
All of these wonderful traditions make for wonderful memories and stories. Tell your children about their names, about your names and about those of everyone in the family. Our names are important and special — they tell us who we are and where we belong.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.