Project Genesis

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Naming a Child for a Deceased Relative

Question: My husband and I named our son for my grandfather, or so we thought, based on information given to us by a family member. After a recent visit to my grandfather’s grave, however, we learned that we got the middle name wrong. Is my son still considered named for my grandfather (the first name is correct)? Do we need to change our son’s middle name? 

Answer: Our names define our essence and can, at times, impact certain aspects of our lives. In biblical times, our ancestors had prophetic powers, and were able to ascertain the core being of their offspring. They were then able to appropriately name their children. We, in our spiritually weakened state are unable to do the same, and therefore employ the names that are already in use. Many have the custom to name after a deceased relative, a righteous person, or a biblical personality relevant to the weekly Torah portion or concurrent Holiday.

Naming after a relative has two components. The first is according honor to that relative and creating a merit for his soul. The second aspect is that through sharing a name, a ‘spark’ from the deceased’s soul enters the child’s. This can ultimately inspire the child to achieve greatness. For this purpose, the name must be identical to that of the one being named after and it must be the intent at the time of the naming. However, as long as some aspect of the name is preserved in the name of the child, the first objective is achieved and the honor is accorded.

The Maharsha”l (Rabbi Solomon Luria, 1510-1574) once was approached by a husband and wife with a dilemma. The husband’s late father was named Meir, and the wife’s was named Uri. They each wanted to honor their parents and could not agree who should get naming rights. The Maharsha”l came up with a creative compromise. Being that both names mean “light”, name the baby Shneur, which means “two lights”!

There is a custom  to slightly change the name if the deceased died young or suffered an unnatural death. The name Yeshaya is a shortened version of the name Yeshayahu, a great prophet who suffered an untimely demise. This serves to protect the child from any manifestation of the tragedy of the deceased.

In any event, you certainly should not change your child’s name, as it was by providence that he received the name he did. May he grow up to bring much merit to his ancestors, and much pride to you.

All the best,
Shlomo Soroka

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