With the fulfillment of the commandment of milah, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, signifying his new role as the father of a great nation. For this reason, we name a baby boy at his brit.
According to Jewish tradition, the name of a person describes his or her essence. It provides identity and generational connection. It begins the process of shaping a human being. Choosing a name empowers parents with creativity, just as God empowered Adam when He assigned him the task of naming every living thing.
The rabbis tell us that a name can influence the behavior of the person and provide a spiritual connection between the individual and his soul. A name can define the individual or describe his personality. It can be a portent for the future or a wish that the person live up to the potential expressed in the meaning of the name. It is important, therefore, to give much thought to a child’s shem kodesh, sacred or Hebrew name.
Jews of Ashkenazi background generally do not name after the living. It is their custom to name a child after a deceased male or female relative or someone close to the family. When naming a male child after a female, one should try to find a male equivalent with the same meaning or to use as many of the same letters and vowels as possible. Sephardim consider it auspicious for longevity for a father to name after himself. Some include grandparents in this tradition so that older people also have good fortune and the blessing of continued, long life. If there is no one special to be remembered or honored, a name might be chosen to correspond with a Jewish holiday or commemorative event that connects with the child’s birth.
It has become popular to celebrate the birth of a girl with a Simchat Bat, usually held at home. This can be scheduled at a convenient time, during the day or in the evening. Cantor Kushner leads a ceremony consisting of prayers and English readings, which provides opportunities to honor family or close friends. He brings a certificate and printed booklets personalized with the English and Hebrew names of the child. The service lasts about 25 minutes.