The Name Game
Two weeks ago this Sunday, I gave birth to my fourth child — a third daughter. With all of our previous children, coming up with a name was easy. My oldest was named after his great-zayde, Shlomo Raphael.
When I was expecting my second, we spent the second half of the pregnancy worried that she was too little and that I did not have enough fluid to sustain the pregnancy. We told ourselves that if she was born healthy and full-term, we would name her accordingly. Netanya Temima (God gave us perfection, or an unblemished one) came into the world the night before her due date — healthy and full of life.
Our third child, born the day before Shavuot, we named Devarya Tiferet, the word of God is glorious.
Each of our children has grown into his/her names. Shlomo, from the Hebrew root shin-lamed-mem, shalem, or complete, is a peacekeeper and healer for our family and all of his friends. My Bubbie tells me that his sweet, endearing personality and exuberant energy are reminiscent of my Zayde. Shlomo excels at math; my Zayde was an engineer … and Shlomo certainly did not pick up that skill from me.
Netanya is a people-pleaser and a perfectionist. She is eager to be right, to be the teacher’s helper. She needs constant reassurance that she is the best. And Devarya is “tiferet.” She is beautiful — inside and out.
We learn from Pirkei Avot that language, in its truest sense, is more than just letters and sounds. In Judaism, a word precedes its subject, creates it and constitutes its very being. It
articulates the Divine desire that it be, expressing its Creator’s perception of its qualities and function — of the end toward which God created it.
In Genesis, Adam gives each creature its original, quintessential name. To do so, he had to utterly know the creature, to understand it. He had to possess the wisdom and insight to penetrate its external form and recognize its holiness — the Divine utility and purpose that lies at its heart.
As parents, we get a small glimpse into what it must be like to be God; when we name our children, we are picking for them a destiny. Of course, there are many other factors that play into who each child will become — internal and external. But we are the first to “name” the child’s essence.
So, on July 8, we chose the name Shai Hadar for baby number four. The name translates as magnificent or splendid gift — and that is what Shai is, a marvelous little present from God.
(My son wanted a different name, Eliana. Why? Because, he said, “God answered” his prayers. Shai is a girl and he would not want to share his room!)
She is less than two weeks old today, so it’s hard to know what Shai has in store for us. However, I am hoping that our choice of such a positive-meaning name will be the first step in her be-
coming a confident and contributing part of the Jewish people.