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Baby Naming

Return to the Guide to Birth Ceremonies for Interfaith Families.


There are no rules in the Jewish tradition for how to name a child. Jews from different parts of the world follow different, sometimes contrary practices.

Jews of Central or Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi Jews) compose the majority of the Jewish population of the U.S. Ashkenazi tradition strongly discourages naming children after close living relatives, especially the parents, but encourages the naming of children to honor dead relatives, often grandparents. Often the child will be given a name that starts with the same letter as an honored late relative.

Jews who trace their ancestry to Spain, Portugal and North Africa (Sephardic Jews), however, may name children for living relatives.

It is also customary--and an essential part of the brit milah ceremony--to give a Jewish child a Hebrew name in addition to an English name. Sometimes the Hebrew name is the same as a relative's Hebrew name, sometimes it is simply related to a relative's name, sometimes it is the Hebrew form of the English name (e.g., Yosef for Joseph, Dovid for David). Many parents choose their children's name from the Bible, from rabbinic literature or from the pool of modern Israeli names.

Source: Ceremonies for Newborns: Overview: Liturgy, Ritual and Custom for Babies, by Simcha Kling,

The Guide to Birth Ceremonies for Interfaith Families is also available in PDF or Word formats.

Hebrew for "covenant of circumcision," a ritual for Jewish boys when they are 8 days old. It is commonly known as "bris," which is the Ashkenazi or Yiddish pronunciation of "brit." Having Jewish family origins in Germany or Eastern Europe. Of the culture of Jews with family origins in Spain, Portugal or North Africa. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "gladness" or "joy," it is often used to refer to a festive occasion or celebration, like a wedding, bat mitzvah, or bris.

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