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by Mira Sucharov, posted Nov. 4, 2011

With my youngest child having just turned five, I find myself reflecting on my time of early parenthood, and specifically on the challenge of choosing baby names. Most parents-to-be enjoy the naming process, but what I think is especially fun for Jewish parents is getting to pick the right Hebrew name.

My son is named Lev in both Hebrew and English (it is Hebrew for “heart”)-- a name my husband and I both loved -- and which we used to honour his paternal great-grandfather and his maternal great-great grandfather. Both were named Joseph, so by naming him Lev Joseph we felt we were evoking the warm spirit of both ancestors. Our Lev seems to enjoy the fact that his name refers to that most loving of symbols and body parts.

But our daughter is not so sure about her Hebrew name.

When my husband and I were expecting our daughter, we knew that we wanted to name her after my paternal grandmother, my Babba Rosie. Her husband, my Zaida Moe died three weeks before I was born. I was hurriedly given the name Mira Michelle (Meira Masha) (after his Hebrew names Meir Moshe). It seemed fitting that my daughter Rory would be named for my Babba Rosie, who had died six months before my husband and I got engaged, and who I miss dearly.

When it came to choosing a Hebrew name, we knew we wanted something more contemporary than what would have been the more natural Rachel (my grandmother’s Hebrew name).

Our daughter’s Hebrew name became etched into our minds five months into my pregnancy. That winter, we attended our friends Nadine and Mike’s wedding in London, England. There, the rabbi spoke movingly about the wedding liturgy. Drawing on the word “re’ut” from the sheva brachot, she explained that what can help people get through the “bad” (“rah”) elements of life is the intimate connection (re’ut) between betrothed companions. Already fragile with pregnancy hormones, I felt my cheeks sting with tears. We both agreed that Re’ut -- a contemporary Hebrew name with exactly the punch of meaning we valued, and with the requisite “R” to honour Rory (and Rosie), would be it.

Once Rory started Hebrew school, though, some challenges appeared. “Do you write her name with or without an apostrophe when transliterating it,” one parent-volunteer emailed me one night? (Sometimes yes, sometimes no.) Is it pronounced “ray-oot” as the Ashkenazi tendency would favour it (and as my daughter comes home pronouncing it) or “Reh-’ut” as the more contemporary Israeli version (and which we prefer) would suggest?

But most strikingly, in the tradition-soaked atmosphere of Hebrew school, Rory soon realized that her name stood apart. As my daughter turned to her classmates -- Sarah, Avigail, Daniel, Michael, Chana, Shimona, she realized she was one of the only students without a Biblical name. Somehow this bit of naming difference suddenly seemed to matter to her.

Last spring, we took a family trip to Israel. Visiting the Old City, we happened upon a Judaica shop. We stopped in to order a Hebrew name necklace for Rory. We mentioned to the shopkeeper that Rory was frustrated that her name wasn’t Biblical. “Ah,” he countered. “It certainly is.” He explained that though there is no actual person named Re’ut in the Bible, a variant on the word is used to describe Abraham’s relationship with God. Of course, the word in an altered form, also appears as “love thy neighbour”.

Rory cherishes her Hebrew name necklace. When her non-Jewish friends come over to play, they sometimes, with my help, think up Hebrew names together. Wilhelmina (meaning protector), becomes Magen (shield). And Rory is very patient with the fact that I speak only Hebrew to her.

Hebrew names, like the language itself, help link us in a chain of belonging. Being called to the Torah for an aliyah, we offer our Hebrew name and those of our parents. And with Hebrew names often having more obvious linguistic meaning than many English names, we get to think of ourselves through lenses of character aspirations. My Hebrew name, Me’irah, means “she illuminates.” It is a good reminder of the burden we all shoulder to help make the world a place of clarity rather than confusion.

Though my kids do not have common names (in the Diaspora at least), my husband and I are secure in the knowledge that our son and daughter, who are such loving companions to one another, who have travelled the world this year bonding with aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends in far-flung places, and who gather friends around them like daisies in a field, have the right Hebrew names.

 **A version of this appeared in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin**  


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