What’s in a Name?
My daughter is four months old and she already had two names. Last week she received a third. When we discovered that we would be having a child on the first day of Pesach last year, we were both so flabbergasted. Although having a child was approximately our plan, getting pregnant as soon as I did was not. Before we knew her, as she grew inside me, we called her “Moonshine.” This was a sweet, if slightly wicked, homage to the joyous, carefree night when we created her.
As my physique rounded and grew and we got to know her, the word moonshine became Moonshine— our daughter. I still think of her as Moonshine sometimes, there are notes and cards and quilt squares made at a baby shower all addressed to Moonshine. But since Moonshine was unlikely to be president of the United States, we chose a more formal name for the birth certificate, Kathryn Luz, meaning “pure light.”
When we found out we were going to have a little girl, I was relieved— only because I’m deeply ambivalent about circumcision and I was relieved that I didn’t have to make that decision. But then I started thinking about how to initiate this little girl into our faith and community. I am like Ruth, I chose to join this community. But she is more like the matriarchs— Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah— born to the Jewish people. For generations the greatest welcome a little girl got into the Jewish community was when her father would be honored with an aliyah the next Shabbat and announce the name of his daughter. No great fanfare like a bris. No grand communal gathering.
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With the rise of feminism and its influence on Judaism our more recent foremothers and forefathers began to create welcoming ceremonies for daughters. This is a very new tradition, we are only now seeing a second generation of Jewish women performing welcoming and naming ceremonies for their daughters. The joy and the curse of such a new tradition is that you can create your own interpretation. It is a joy to personalize, but for someone like me, an over tired new mom, I would have been happy to have more of a formula. Luckily Debra Nussbaum Cohen gives new moms the perfect mix and match formula in her book, Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter.
Just as we did with our wedding, we mixed old family traditions with new Jewish traditions. Our close friend and rabbi performed the ceremony. We sat under our wedding chuppah my mother made, with fabric supplied by my mother in-law, beaded by my sister. Our daughter wore the green silk Chinese dragon slippers my sister and I both wore when we were baptized back when our family was Catholic. Surrounded by friends and family, we washed Kathryn’s feet, welcoming her like Abraham did in his tent without walls welcoming the stranger. We blessed her and announced her Hebrew name – Meirah Levanah, “white shining” or some would say “moon shine.”
And so our daughter has three names— one that ties her to her parents, one to make her own identity with, and one to learn Torah by.