“I am named after my paternal grandfather; can my baby be named after the same person as I am?”

Image of Jewish ancestors used courtesy of the Center for Jewish History and Flickr.
Image of Jewish ancestors used courtesy of the Center for Jewish History and Flickr.

This is a great question because it speaks to topics close to the heart of Jewish tradition: How are we to be inspired by those who came before us, while looking toward the future with a sense of hope for those who will follow in our footsteps?

I would like to examine this issue through the lenses of the prevalent Jewish customs in the Sefardic and Ashkenazic communities. Sefardic Jews (those who trace their roots to Spain and North Africa) have various practices of naming their children after living relatives. In some communities, for example, it is customary to bestow the names of the paternal grandparents on the first boy and girl who are born to a couple, and the names of the maternal grandparents on the second boy and girl who are born. This is seen as a great honor to the grandparents, and I can testify to the beauty of seeing a grandparent holding the grandchild of the very same name. What a beautiful sense of respect and love being shared by multiple generations!

It would seem that the author of our question was named for his grandfather since that grandfather was deceased when the questioner was born. His parents thus followed standard Ashkenazic practice. Ashkenazic Jews trace their roots primarily to non-Spanish/Portuguese Europe and have almost universally chosen to name their children after deceased relatives, choosing to honor their memories in that way.

Clearly then, according to Ashkenazic practice, one would normally not name their child after a grandparent whom they themselves are named for, since they would then be bestowing their own name upon their child. However, our case is complicated by the fact that the grandfather in question may have had another name that his grandson (our questioner) does not bear himself, but which he wishes to bestow upon his son. Perhaps this situation would allow for some leeway, allowing both the questioner and his son to each bear their own individual name as a living tribute to a beloved family patriarch.

Regardless of what he decides to do, I commend the questioner on thinking about ways in which to memorialize his grandfather, while at the same time seeking to inspire his son to live a life inspired by his own great-grandfather’s legacy.

created at: 2012-10-16

Rabbi Yonah Berman is the rabbi at Kadimah-Toras Moshe, an Orthodox congregation in Brighton.

For additional information on baby naming in the Jewish tradition, visit InterfaithFamily’s What To Do When The Baby Arrives: Tips for Inclusive Naming Ceremonies.