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All About Names and Naming

Halacha and Hashkafa

By: Rabbi Moshe Taub


The following was first written for AMI Magazine, and published as four articles. It has been reformatted here


Part I - Our Names Define Us

Once upon a time there was a man named Winner, and his little brother Loser.


This is not an opening to a joke, or a parable. Once upon a time there really was a man named Winner and his brother, Loser.


In a famous paper from a joint study between the University of Buffalo and the Military Academy at West Point (Implicit Egotism, Journal ‘Attitudes of Social Cognition’) the notion of our names having an impact on our life choices was seriously observed and analyzed. For example, men and women whose first names contain the letters ‘DE’ or ‘DEN’ were far more likely to become dentists!


To demonstrate the fallibility of this theory, economist Steven Levitt from the University of Chicago, in his now iconic ‘Freakonomiks’ (p. 163), examined the story of one Robert Lane. In the late 1950’s, for reasons not entirely clear, Mr. Lane thought to perform a cruel experiment: he named his sixth son Winner, and his seventh Loser.


The consequence of their names may seem curious to some. ‘Loser’ went on to live a winning life. He is now a family man and serves honorably in the NYPD. ‘Winner’ on the other hand became a reprobate and has been arrested, so far, over thirty times.


While academics are just now seriously investigating these topics, the idea within yiddeshkeit of names and their power is well known, and applies both to Jews and non-Jews alike.[1] Indeed, it even applies to creatures other than Man. Immediately following creation, the Ribona Shel Olam directed Adam to name all the animals. “And Adam assigned names…” (2:19,20) is not referring to an arbitrary communical tool, rather to a perfect depiction of each animal’s quintessence, their mahus (see Radak, Rabeinu Bachayay, Bamidbar Rabbah 19:3 and Koheles Rabba 7:32).


Due to the significance of names, rabbanim are approached with any number of interesting, intriguing and odd questions relating to this topic, shalom bayis sometimes is threatened, and family members go without speaking to each other.

  • Who has the right to name a child, the mother or the father?

  • May one fill out the baby’s birth certificate application before the baby is officially named?

  • May One name after a person who died young or tragically?

  • May one name a daughter Shira, or other ‘new’ names?


These questions and more will be discussed in the next few columns.


People often quote chazal as teaching that all (Jewish) parents are gifted with a quasi ruach kakodesh when naming their children. While, to my knowledge, chazal never say this directly (I await a reader who has access to Bar Ilan or Otzar HaChochmah to prove otherwise), it is however implicit in many, many statements (see also Shaar HaGilgulim, hakdama; see however Bereishis Rabba 37:7 where one can infer that today we do not have special assistance when naming our children).


As the gemara (Berachos 7b) explains, due to a name’s significance and its role in influencing the life of its holder Hashem must, in some way, guide its creation:


“From where do we know that a (person’s) name is the harbinger (of things to come/their personality)? Said Rabbi Elezar, for the verse says (Tehillim 46:9), ‘Go out and witness the works of Hashem, Who has wrought destructions (‘…shum shamos…’) in the land’. Do not read it as ‘shamos’ (destructions), rather as ‘shaimos’” (names)”


Meaning, Hashem Himself plans the names for each person (see HaKoseiv who proves from here that a parent indeed does have ruach hakodosh when naming a child).


Based on what we have seen so far, which of the above two studies is correct according to our mesorah? The ‘DEN’ study that demonstrated correlation between names and action, or the Winner/Loser story that, perhaps, revealed that it does not? (Of course, these studies were focused on behavioral science, i.e. names subconsciously causing us to act in certain ways, while chazal are dealing with influence on a much deeper level)


It would seem clear that yiddeshkeit would support the first study, the one that proved that names are a portent. But it is not so simple.


The gemara (Yoma 83) brings two views: Rabbi Meir would investigate people’s names so as to ascertain what type of people they were; Rabbi Yehudah and R’ Yosi did not. This gemara has always troubled me. Based on the gemara in Berachos that Hashem directs the names of each person, why wouldn’t the latter investigate names? It would seem that Rabbi Meir was obviously correct!


The truth is, like all grand and deep concepts, Rabbi Yehudah and R’Yosi had reason not to rely on the information provided by someone’s name alone.


The medrash (Bamidbar Rabba 16:10) teaches us that at not all people with a ‘disgusting’ name are disgusting, nor do all people with pleasant names act pleasantly. Based on this, explains the Tosphos Yom HaKipurim, Rabbi Meir was simply relying on the rules of majority, whereas the rabbis, it would seem, were taking into account the possibility that the names of these particular people would not be a proof to anything. As the Zohar (Bereishis 59b) explains, the ‘good’ in a name, or the ‘bad’, is our choice to follow or to ignore. Maharal (Ohr Chodosh) further explains that for this reason we find that by a rasha the Torah will say a name first (e.g. “and Naval was his name”), for reshaim took control of their name and ignored their true calling; whereas by a tzadik the Torah will say his name last (e.g. “…and his name was Mordechai”), for they allowed their destiny to take hold (on this last point, see Artscroll’s Divrei HaYami vol.1, p. xxxvi).


Whatever the degree, names do matter. It is for this reason, explains Rav Gedalia Shor, that we wait until a boy’s bris to give him his name, as opposed to a girl who typically receives her name before she is eight days old. Since until the bris the boy is somewhat incomplete, his mahus/purpose is also unclear. Once the bris is performed he is then ready, as is Hashem, for his name.[2]


Furthermore, the Noam Elimelech (Shmos) teaches that the name given to a child will become the very name for the neshama!


This is why we call someone by their name to wake them up - not to get their attention but to call the neshama by its name so that it comes back down to earth!


Based on the power and mystery behind our names it becomes understood why Yaakov and the angel ended their struggle with an exchange of their names, why Hashem would seek a name change when bestowing a new beracha on someone, and why the halacha is to change a name when someone is seriously ill R’l (Rama 355:10). It explains why Moshe, Shlomo Hamelech and a host of others were given names beyond the ones conferred upon them at birth (see Shmos Rabbah 40:4, Sota 34, et al.), as names are always used as the best descriptive of either who we are or who we became, or who we should become.


Names are what connects human beings to each other, how we call those that are dear to us. Never should they be the cause of machlokos.


On this last point, let us explore some the halachos surrounding the issue of names and baby naming.


Part II - Naming After One Who Died Young or Tragically R’l

Rav Yitzchak of Vienna had a dream.


Rav Yitzchak, the author of the 13th century classic ‘Ohr Zarua’, was also a great mystic. A student of Rav Yehudah HaChasid, he was a member of the mysterious (and first) Chasidic movement. He was also a great halachist, having been one of the prime teachers of none other than Rav Meir M’Ruttenberg, himself one of the greatest poskim who ever lived.


According to the Seder HaDoros (p. 309, Warsaw ed. [1878]), Rav Yitzchak went to bed one evening vexed by a question, “How should the name Akiva be spelled”?


This was not simply a matter of curiosity, but one of law; knowing the proper spelling of a name is critical as it relates to the laws of gitten. The root of his doubt stemmed from fact that the gemara always refers to Rebbe Akiva with an ‘aleph’ at the end, whereas most people spell it with a ‘hei’. In his dream the following famous verse (Tehillim 97:11) entered his mind: “Ohr Zarua L’Tzadik U’lyishrei Lev Simcha”. The last letters of each word combine to spell Akiva with a ‘hei’ (perhaps he was so taken by this dream that he also used this verse to name his magnum opus, the ‘Ohr Zarua’).


Perhaps in another column we can delve into the issue of dreams,[3] but for now we shall ponder something else: why is Rebbe Akiva’s name spelled one way in the gemara and one way after its closing?


Some five hundred years after the Ohr Zarua’s dream the Chasam Sofer (shu’t Evh’e 2:28, s.v. “v’ulei’) quotes ‘achronim’ who explain the shift in this spelling as being due to raya mazlei (dangerous mazel/destiny). 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.[4], [5]


How does the above relate to the more common question of desiring to name a child after a loved who, l’a, died young?


Sadly, this question became very real for me. My first child, a daughter, was born on the third day of shiva for my mother. While a rabbi can coolly discuss an issue from an academic standpoint, having had the experience myself I understand the dilemma. On the one hand one desires to protect their child from any physical or metaphysical harm, and on the other hand one pines, yearns, for a proper zikaron for the beloved nifter(ess).


Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe y’d 2:122) was asked directly if naming a child after someone who died young is a real problem. He answers that we should have ‘ktzas kpeida’,[6] a little reservation about choosing such a name.


Rav Moshe brings from Rav Shlomo Luria [d.1573] (Yam Shel Shlomo, Gittin 4:31) who felt very strongly that one should avoid such names, and who writes that even the name Yishayahu (Isaiah) has been changed to Yeshayah due to his tragic end (at the hands of his grandson Menasheh, see Yevamus 49b).[7]


While Rav Moshe argues that this matter is a debate,[8] and one can often be lenient (one must speak to a rav to understand when a leniency here is warranted),[9] he does say that in certain cases all would agree that such names should be avoided.

  • If one’s spouse is concerned. In such a case, even if a rav says that one need not worry, one should yield to the spouse

  • Someone who died (young) without children[10]

  • Even according to the more stringent viewpoint that one must always avoid names of those who died young, this is only true if the person died before the age of 52. That would be the cut-off simply because we see clearly that the minhag has always been to name children Shlomo and Shmuel, both of whom in died at the age of 52.


Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky is quoted by Rabbi Paysach Krohn as putting the cut-off age at 60 (Bris Mila, p. 45).[11]


As we pointed out from Rav Moshe, not all agree that there is any concern at all. Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henken the leading posek in America until his death in 1973 at the age 92 was asked by Rabbi Noach Gutman if he could name a child after his father in-law who had died young. Rav Henken replied that he himself (Rav Henken) was named after an uncle who died at the age of 30. “Halevay all of klal yisroel should live as long as me!”[12]


We should note that naming after those who died young would differ from naming after someone who died tragically. After all, Rabbi Akiva was in his 80’s when he died and, as seen, we are still careful to change the spelling of his name when naming after him because of raya d’mazlei.


Nevertheless, some poskim allow one to name a child after someone who died al Kiddush Hashem (e.g. the Holocaust).[13]


Based on all of the above, what should one do when naming after a loved one who died young or tragically? Should they change the spelling? Add a name?


We will discuss this and many other issues relating to the topic of names next week iy’H.


To Be Continued


Part III - Of Gender and the New

Let us continue our discussion of names the issue of names in halacha and Jewish thought with a bang; a quick case that will explode into a fountain of fascinating fragmental questions relating to our subject.


Imagine a new family moves to your neighborhood. They have two children, a boy and a girl. “This is my bechor” the father says, “his name is Yona, as he was born on Yom Kippur when we read Sefer Yona”. “How nice” you sincerely respond.


A few minutes pass and his two-year-old daughter wanders into the room.


“Oh, and this is my daughter, Yona, named after the bird.”


For this story, the name ‘Beracha’ also works, as it is found in Tanach (Divrei Hayamim) as a male name, and in modern usage (and Sheimos HaGittin) as a female name.


Before the eye rolling at the far-fetched nature of the case (although, in halacha we are expected to use the most extreme case so as to better distill the law to its core systematic essence), consider the following:


What if one has a daughter named Beracha and a son named Baruch, would that be a problem?


This is in fact a very realistic case, for if a beloved great grandfather was named, say, Boruch, and after he passes away and the next child born into the family is a girl, so they name her Beracha, a feminization of Baruch. Some time later they have a boy and want to name him Baruch, would this be a problem? This case works for Chaim/Chaya, Dan/Dina, Yehudah/Yehudis etc.


Another example would be the name Esther. Should one have a girl with that name and then, some years later, another girl is born on Purim it would be natural for the parents to desire a ‘Purim’ name. Being that Esther is taken by another one of their daughters already, would they be able to name the second daughter Hadassa, which was Esther’s other name? [14]


Some achronim point out that Yaakov avinu did just that; he names one son Dan and a daughter Dina! Rav Chaim Kinievsky[15] allows the case of the Hadassa/Esther daughters as well, while he does not recommend the Yona/Yona case.


In addition, the amara Rav Chisda had to sons with the same name, ‘Mar’ (nicknames were assigned to each to distinguish them, see Kesubos 89b).[16] [17]


Let us now consider the following cases:


  • may one give two children the same name, say Moshe for two different sons[18]

  • if not, what if each name, although the same, is after two different people (the zaide Moshe, and Moshe Rabbeinu)[19]

  • may one give a boy a girls name, and vice versa[20]

  • may one name a boy Yona after a female relative named Yona, even though the connation and meaning will be changed. This question would apply as well to the name ‘Simcha’ where sefardim use this name for a girl and Ashkenazim use it for a boy[21]


Relating specifically to the issue of feminizing a name, the Tzitz Eliezar mentions a case where a family named a girl after someone named ‘Eliezar’ by calling her…’Eliezarah’!


While the minhag is to masculinize or feminize names[22], some are strict[23].


Finally, and perhaps the question rabbis have been asked most frequently of late would be born from the fact that ‘Yona’ for a girl is a fairly recent usage. Rav Chaim Kinievsky has been quoted often as stating that ‘new names’ should not be utilized, and if one has such a name they should change it or add a name.


In fact, the discussion about names in these pages had their genesis when my wife asked me if Rav Chaim is really saying this and why.


Part IV - New Names

The reports have begun to spread, and many rabbanim have been inundated with requests for clarification.


The stories all go something like this:


A man comes to Rav Chaim Kinievsky asking for a beracha for a daughter named Shira, or Aviva - or a son named Oren, or Ari[24] - and Rav Chaim advises that he change her/his name first, as such ‘new’ names should not be used.


My wife was the first to bring this to my attention, wanting to know if these stories were true and, if they have verified provenance, must we abide by his psak.


The following is one story that I not only have heard but also found in a sefer.[25] A man once came to see Rav Chaim Kinievsky asking if he could name his daughter Shira. Rav Chaim replied in the negative. The father persisted, “But she was born on shabbos shira (parshas b’shalach)!”


Rav Chaim humorously responded, “And what would you name her if she was born parshas parah?!”


[We should point out that there once was a Talmudic sage named for a cow: Rabbi Yochanan ben Purta (cow). In fact, this name was to represent something positive about him![26]]


Before we continue, a word to those readers with such ‘new’ names who may, or who already have, become distressed from this ruling of Rav Chaim: Rav Menashe Klein[27], Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg and, most prominently, Rav Elyashiv (Rav Chaim Kinievsky’s own father-in-law) all say that there is no issue in giving ‘new’ names.[28]


In addition, there is any number of opinions regarding names. For instance, my name is Moshe[29] and there is an opinion –as implausible as it may sound - not to use even that name![30] Another example is the view of the Mabit (d. 1585) who argued[31] that we mustn’t give any names that are found in the Torah before Avraham.[32] This would mean that we could not use the name Noach!


Ironically, it is Rav Chaim Kinievsky who shows that we do not follow this view. In his peirush al haTorah (Taamei D’kra, p. 16 in the 5th edition) he offers 33 examples in Tanach and the entire corpus of Talmud and poskim where this clearly was not followed, and names such as Noach, Adam, Chanoch were used.


So, while no one should grow worried, nevertheless this is just a column and all final psakim must come from one’s own personal rav.


With this is mind, let us return to ‘new’ names.


If we would distill everything to its core, we have four questions:


  • what is Rav Chaim’s source

  • must we follow this ruling

  • what is considered a ‘new’ name

  • how would one go about changing a name (this last question is also a call-back to past columns on the subject of Names)


These are not simple questions. Consider the problem of defining what a ‘new’ name is. For example there are many relatively recent Yiddish names, translations from the Hebrew (e.g. Dov/Ber, Aliza/Freida[33]). Are these ‘new’? What about secular names that have crept into our nomenclature, such as Zalman (Solomon), Bayla[34], and Maimon[35]. The Gemara –as Rav Moshe Feinstien points out –is chock-full of ‘new’ names.


Even names like Shneur may be a relatively recent invention. Rav Shlomo Luria[36] (d. 1573) famously recalls how his grandfather’s father’s name was Meir while his wife’s father’s name was Uri. When he had a boy a debate arose as to which one of the newborn’s grandfathers to name after.[37] Rav Luria continues by telling us that his grandfather came up with a pshara: he named the boy Shneur, which means ‘Two Lights” (as both Meir and Uri allude to light)!


So, would Shneur be considered a ‘new’ name”?


In fact, it has recently been discovered that in a 17th century Spanish-Portuguese siddur, that the complier, Binyamin Shneur Godinitz, translates his name therein as Benjamin Senior Godinitz! So that, perhaps, this name too had a secular origin, or, that non Jews got the title ‘Senior’ from our name Shneur! This last possibility is supported by the fact that, contra Rav Luria, Rabbeinu Yona –who died about 310 years before Rav Luria –quotes a rebbe of his named Rabbeinu Shmuel bar Shneur (in his brief Sefer HaYirah).[38]


One more interesting example:


Several years ago I was speaking during shalosh seudos when I mentioned Basya bas Paroah.


Someone corrected me, asserting that her name was Bisya, not Basya.


Indeed, in Divrei Hayamim (1:1:4) she is called Bisya. However Rav Chaim Kinievsky[39] himself explains that at some point in Jewish history we likely changed the name so that it represents the more positive idea that we are children of Hashem (Bas=daughter Kuh =of Hashem).


As we can see from the above, knowing the source of Rav Chaim’s stringency regarding ‘new’ names will help us answer the other questions.


Recently a reader called me to share his story. He had named his daughter Shira and Rav Chaim said they should simply remove the yud and call her Sarah![40]


While many believe that Rav Chaim is the first to have this hakpada (and that, indeed, ‘new’ names only became a problem of late –see further), this may not be accurate.


Rav Avraham Eliyahu Makatovsky (d. 1976) seems to have mentioned this concern over fifty years ago!


Now, many readers may think they have never heard of Rav Makatovsky, but most have –under his penname ‘Eliyahu Ki Tov’.


His most famous book was the Sefer HaToda’a, translated into English by Rav Nachman Bulman under the title ‘The Book of Our Heritage” and found in so many Jewish homes.


An earlier sefer of his was titled ‘Ish U’Beisu’, also a classic, it reviews the essentials of a Jewish home; chinuch, kashrush, tznius, shalom beis.  On page 301 (ch. 23) of this book he describes the procedure for naming children. He writes, “One must make sure to give a name that is clear/precise (‘barrur’), from the names found in Tanach (‘mikra’)”.


It is surprising that this very popular book would write such a thing and yet few have heard of such a hakpada. This mystery was solved the other day when I discovered my shul’s copy of the English translation of this work (also by Rav Bulman) where this sentence seems to have been left out –likely because it is both without a source and would cause much confusion.[41]


It may also be true that his concern was not a hakpada of ‘new’ names per se, rather, because this book was initially written for people uneducated in Judaism or new to our faith the author wanted, simply, to make sure that they should not run in to any problems with baby namings. So, without getting into all the various and complicated rules, he gave them one easy directive to follow that would help bypass most problems.


As for Rav Chaim Kinievsky, he makes his source clear. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 37:7) says in the name of Rebbe Shimon Ben Gamliel how the earlier generations, either through ruach hakodesh or specific wisdoms, would choose unique names for their children; but as for us, who do not have ruach hakodesh[42], we should simply name after our forefathers.


Some bring support to this idea from a verse in Shir HasShirim (1:8, translation based on Rashi): “If you do not know where to graze (your young goats) then follow the footsteps of the sheep (that came before you), then you will graze your young goats even among foreign sheperds”.


The word for young goat is ‘gedi’ which in English means ‘kid’, which can also mean, in English, ‘a child’. What one may not realize is that in lashon kodesh as well, the term ‘gedi’ is used to mean both a young goat and children.[43]


What comes out from the above is that, although historically we have made up our own names, we see (from the Midrash) that a certain point we must realize we are no longer capable of this and must therefore rely on the names of the ancients. In addition, due to the many dangers of the present galus –of having to raise children among a culture that can be, at times, pernicious and pugnacious, it is high time to follow the footsteps (i.e. names) of our forefathers as protection.


As we have pointed out above, most, if not most, disagree with Rav Chaim’s ruling. This is likely because up until this generation we have been coming up with new names without protest, and, the Midrash quoted seems to have been not used for final halacha as many after it continued to use new names. Nevertheless the surreptitious and formidable je ne se qua of a gaon  of Rav Chaim’s caliber should give us pause.


Perhaps he sees it as if we have reached a certain tipping-point of galus where we need to lean on the shoulders of our past.[44]


Famously, the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba, 32) teaches that among the many merits for geulas mitzraim was the fact that we did not change our names. Perhaps it does not mean that we used names in lashon hakodesh (as indeed maintaining their language was anyway the next on this list of ˆzechusim’) rather that we did not change from the names of the past. Meaning, on a subconscious level perhaps, being called “Miriam” or “Moshe” awakens our neshama in a very dark galus, attaching us to the past, and protects us for the future.


Of course, regarding all of the above a rav should be consulted (especially if one’s ‘new’ name has a negative connotation).


Someone once came to the Chazon Ish explaining that his wife was ill and how they desired a new name be added, and if the Chazon Ish can suggest this new name. “Miriam” he replied. The husband explained that they had a daughter named Miraim. “Devorah” said the Chazon Ish. The man left satisfied. When the Chazon Ish was asked how he came to those names he replied, “My reasons were chesed! For, in truth, any name would due, rather I saw that if I would tell him a name, any name, he would leave without worry as to what name to choose!”[45]


I only wish this discussion abated fears, explained Rav Chaim’s psak, and has given its readers the tools to approach their rabbanim should they still have doubts.






[1]Although there may differences in degrees, see Ohr HaChaim to Shmos 2:10. See also gemara Berachos 7b brought below which is the major source that parent’s have inspiration when naming a child. This gemara was actually a discussion relating to the name ‘Rus’ who, of course, was named by gentile parents! See Maharatz Chiyus ad loc.  Compare Sefer Chasidim # 460 where he states that non-Jews may name their children after the living, while Jews should not do this, from which one can infer that issues of ‘names’ are indeed stricter by Jews than by gentiles. Incidentally, this line in the Sefer Chasidim is the main source for Ashkenazim not to name children after the living, a subject we will discuss, iy’H, in later part of this series.


[2] See  shu’t Tzitz Eliezar 18:54 for a number of additional reasons why we wait for the bris to name a boy. These and others will be explored when we discuss the issues of using a name before a bris (say, for a birth certificate, or, l’a to daven for a child).


[3] We should note that the poskim do discuss a case where a name came to a parent in a dream and if one is then obligated to use it for their child. See Otzar HaBris vol. 1 p. 363 note #9.


[4] It would seem that an amazing chiddush is born from this: even if one is not naming a baby after the tanna Rebbe Akivah, but rather after a great uncle who lived, say, in Brooklyn who also had this name, we still must be concerned. Meaning if the very first person who had this name, that is the source for all of those named after him in the future, dies tragically then a change may be necessary.


[5] If the Ohr Zarua had this same concern, or if he simply wanted to know what the right spelling was, is unclear. However, it is interesting to note that one of the first sources to discuss these issues was the Sefer Chasidim (#244,246), whose author was Rav Yehuda HaChasid, a teacher of the Ohr Zarua.


[6] See Siach Hasadeh vol. 1 p. 45 [gilyon] from Rav Chaim Kinievsky and Shemiras Haguf V’Ha’Nefesh p. 449 note 1 if such concepts, of staying away from certain names, is a halachic one or simply midas chasidus.


[7] See however Rav Schwab’s commentary on sefer Yeshayahu (Artscroll, introduction) where his dialogue with an Israeli professor is documented regarding the fact that even the ‘dead-sea-scrolls’ have this sefer named Yeshaya, without the final vav. In addition, I would add that other religions too seemed to have, for whatever reason, transliterated the name of Yeshayahu without the final vav.


[8] Between the Rama evh’e 129:26 who does not seem to be bothered at such namings, and the aforementioned Rav Luria who does. We should note, as does Rav Moshe, that the Chasam Sofer rejects any debate on the matter and asserts that the Rama also would be makpid.


[9] He explains that there is a difference in one was determined to live a short life or if one should have lived a long life yet was punished with an early death. Only the latter, he feels, would be a concern. Yet it is impossible to know why a person died young. He therefore surmises that should someone l’a die at a very young age there is A) a doubt if this was a punishment B) a doubt/debate if we even must be makpid regarding such matters. Thus we have a s’feik s’feika (double-doubt) and may be lenient.


[10] At first blush, it seems to this writer, Rav Moshe argument that one mustn’t name after someone who died (young) without children would seem to be challenged from a gemara in Yavamus 24a. There the gemara teaches that although the pasuk says (Devarim 25:6) that when one performs yibum the firstborn son from that union should be given ‘…the name…’ of the deceased brother, the true meaning is rather in reference to inheritance. The gemara proves this from a gezeira shava. Rava then questions the need for this gezeira shava by demonstrating that the pasuk could not mean an actual naming. See there for how he shows this. Now, this would have been a perfect time for Rava or another amara to strengthen the question by saying: “And, in any event, how could we name after a young man who, by definition, died without having children?”! Indeed Rav Moshe himself would prove from a gemara’s silence on an issue that it must be allowed [see his teshuvah on elective/cosmetic surgery]. There are a number of answers to this challenge, which are beyond the scope of this article.


[11] The Minchas Yitzchak is quoted as giving the cut-off age as 50 (Shemiras Hanefesh V’Haguf p. 449, end of note 2). Sheimos Yikarei, p. 113 note 62 quotes Rav Elyashiv as putting the age at 60.


[12] Otzar HaYedios (Eisenberger) p.640


[13] See shu’t Sheilas Yitzchak as quoted in Birrur Halacha (Rabbi Bohm) p. 192 and Otzar HaBris p. 347 inter alia. It would seem that these views should also allow the spelling of Akiva to go unchanged, as he too died al Kiddush Hashem. Indeed, Rav Moshe, after he gives the age-52 cut off, mentions in passing the issue of changing Akiva’s spelling without further mention. It would seem then that even a tragic death al Kiddush Hashem does not take away the concern of the Yam Shel Shlomo. Nevertheless, it seems that the minhag is to be lenient regarding the Holocaust and names.


[14] Although tragic, a similar question is raised concerning a child who dies young and naming the next son after him. Growing up one of my closest friends was named after a brother who passed away young; his second name was after the brother and a first name was added

See Maaseh Rav #51 and shu’t Beis Yitzchak 2 (Even HaEzer) 183 where he also rules that the new name should be the first one.


[15] Sheimos B’Aretz p. 91


[16] See also shu’t Tzitz Eliezar 11:56. These nicknames would solve the issue mentioned by the Yaskil Avdi 8:20;22 as well as by the Divrei Malkiel that having two brothers with the same name can lead to serious sins.


[17] Some marshal another source for two sons with one name. The Chizkuni and Ibn Ezra to Vayigash state that aside for Chushim ben Dan was another child who died young also named Chushim. Yet, as the Tzitz Eliezar ad loc points out, they do not assert that they shared the same name, only that the Torah does not mention the name of the other since he had already passed. However, see the amazing idea (although he ultimately rejects it) in Taamei D’Kra by Rav Chaim Kinievsky who suggests that they did have the same name –‘Chush’ –and to express both of them the Torah used the plural ‘Chushim’!We do find that Dovid Hamelech had sons with the same name (Divrei HaYamim I ch. 3)


[18] See Pischei Teshuvos Yoreh Deah 116:6, shu’t Divrei Malkiel. Cf. shut’ Shoel U’Meishiv 3:15


[19] We should point out that what one has in mind, or rather who one has in mind at the time of naming seems to carry weight. The Steipler (‘Kreina D’Agrasa’ 2:149) would tell people who felt compelled to use a name a name that they were also uncomfortable with - say for a grandfather who tragically died in Auschwitz - to think of the original name upon naming. In other words, should his name have been Avraham, then, when naming the child, have in mind the biblical Avraham, or say the Raavad, as who you are naming after, this way whilst one is naming after someone else the grandfather will still retain some type of ‘zikaron’.


[20] We are not referring to naming a boy Esther or a girl Moshe –which all hold is not done (and perhaps lo yilbosh, Rav Shlomo Zalman is quoted as saying such a name is is ‘hevel v’ra’os ruach’) rather feminizing the name of a male relative for a female newborn or vice versa. See Divrei Malkiel ad loc., Bris Avos 8:29


[21] This was the case brought in the Divrei Malkiel. Note that the name ‘Simcha’, although used, is first mentioned in the gemara Sukka 48b about an individual with that name in very negative context. Rav Chaim Kinievsky is quoted (Sheimos B’Aretz p. 51) as explaining that since it is the custom to use this name, and because it carries its own positive inflection and meaning it is used. See also Pnei Yehoshua to Kesubos 104b who explains that often times we find names that are used yet whose first mention is by the wicked (e.g. the meraglim). We would have to assume in these instances righteous people used these names long before these reshaim came along.


[22] See Midrash Pinchos (siman 12) that this will even bring an aliyah for the soul of the opposite gender


[23] Shu’t Tzitz Eliezar 7 p. 251 where he says that perhaps one can be strict.


[24] See Sheimos B’Aretz p. 166-178 for a complete list of names that Rav Chaim considers ‘new’ and to what new name each should be changed to.


[25] Ibid. p. 177.


[26] See Midrash Rabba to Ki Sissa parsha 40 with Artscroll ed., ‘Insights’ s.v. “The Man Named for a Cow” for the fascinating story behind his name adapted, with additional sources, from the Pesikta Rabbasi 14:3. A Jew once sold a cow to a gentile. The latter was unable to get the cow to work on Shabbos. When he complained of his purchase the Jewish seller whispered in the cow’s ear that now he works for a gentile and could work on Shabbos. Indeed, the cow then began to work on that day. When the gentile realized how even a cow can recognize Hashem, he converted. When he chose a new name for himself (as converts are to do, based on Tosefta Gittin 6:6) he chose ben Purta, as a cow was his inspiration to become Jewish!


[27] Shu’t Mishneh Halachos 9:308


[28] See Vayikareh Shemo B’Yisroel p. 168 footnote 1 for the author’s report of their psak. We should note that Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach was not thrilled by such new names, although it is hard to argue that he took the more extreme view of Rav Chaim, see Valahu Lo Yuval vol. 2 p. 142.


[29] This, in truth may not be my ‘name’, as I have two names, Moshe Mordechai, and in a future column we will bl’n discuss both the history of having two names and if, like the Chazon Ish seemed to have argued, those two names really make up one full name, and what difference such a view would make.


[30] This is brought in several places in the name of the Avnei Neizer who once was handed a kvittel with the name Moshe on it and said that one is not to name after Moshe rabbeinu. When the father explained the the child in question was born on 7 Adar (Moshe’s yartzeit) the Avnei Nezer was unmoved from his position. Indeed, one will not find any tanna or ammara with that name. While one 12 volume work on names (Kuntros HaSheimos HaChodosh, vol 1, hakdama, p. 10) who seeks to find one instance (Menachos 65) it would seem to be based a misreading of that gemara. We should also note the few occasions that tannaim and ammoriam were given biblical names; although we do find Rabbi Ahron and Rabbi Mordechai (see Bava Kama 109, Menachos 64, respectively). Nevertheless, the minhag is, of course, to give the name Moshe. Indeed Rav Moshe Feinstien was also born on 7 Adar and for this reason was given the name Moshe (Igros Moshe vol. 8, Biographical Sketch).


[31] Shu’t Mabit 2:186


[32] While the Mabit does not give a source for this, see Chida in Shem HaGedolim, meraches Gedolim, Aleph:32 for a source. The Chida himself disagrees with the Mabit (see also Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah, 265:6).


[33] See however Bava Kama 38b, ‘shtei preidos tovos…’ and Sheimos B’Aratz p. 50.


[34] See Shu’t Rabbenu Tam #25 as brought in JHCS 1997 article where it is asserted that this name comes from Rabbeinu Tam’s aunt named ‘Belle-Assez’)


[35] Rambam’s father. See Igros Moshe Even HaEzer 3:35 where Rav Moshe Feinstien suggests that this and many other secular names slowly became accepted as Jewish names.


[36] Yam Shel Shlomo, Gittin 4:26. See Chida in Shem HaGedolim, kuntros acharon.


[37] In a future column we will, bl’n, delve into the issue of who has the right to name a child.


[38] While certainly the events that Rav Luria described happened, however, instead of inventing a name perhaps his grandfather was searching for an already exisisting Jewish name that would act as a memory for both fathers.


[39] Sheimos B’Aratz p. 99. All bold words in this particular sefer is a direct quote from letters received from Rav Chaim. See there footnote #54 where the compiler brings from Pardes Yosef, who in turn brings from Vayikra Rabba 1:3 that Bisya herself was named as ‘daughter of Hashem’.


[40] When a name needs to be changed, or a Hebrew name need be given to an adult, we always seek a shem domeh, a name that is simeler


[41] See the teshuva of Rav Menashe Klein referenced above where the questioner seems to have brought this quote to the attention of Rav Klein, and why Rav Klein rejects it.


[42] See Part 1 on Names where we discussed the idea of all parents, even today, having ruach hakodesh of some type when naming children, and if, indeed, this comes from chazal.


[43] See Artscroll Shir HaShirim ad loc.


[44] See however page 52 of Sheimos B’Aretz where Rav Chaim seems to suggest that Yiddish names such as Menachem Mendel or Shraga Feivel may also have been based on a false understanding of the original name-carriers true name. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe in several places) seems to suggest the possibilty that some non-Hebrew names entered our lexicon in every galus and due to kibud av v’eim were/are kept in use. See also Chazon Ish as quoted in Orchos Rabbeinu 3, mila, 31, and the Steipler in Toldos Yaakov p. 317 who is quoted as saying not to use Yiddish names today (this would seem not to apply to chassidim who are naming after the rebbes – see VaYikare Shemo B’Yisroel p. 180)


[45] Maaseh Ish vol. 1 p. 203

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