Meet my daughter, Jonathan

By Miriam Shaviv, September 28, 2011

With 10 weeks - perhaps less – to go before I have a new baby, it's hard to say I've done much to prepare.
The clothes are still all up in the attic. I'm yet to retrieve the baby bath and car seat from the friends who borrowed them. Perhaps you become complacent with your third. I know it will all get done. There is only one thing I am really worried about: what am I going to call this kid (gender, as yet, unknown) when it arrives?

Now, I know what you parents out there are thinking. We have nearly an entire trimester left to decide and something will present itself, perhaps when we actually meet the baby.

But that didn't happen with our first two. It took us so long to name my daughter Eliana that my grandfather took me aside to confide that it "wasn't right". This time I mean to be prepared.

The problem is that naming a Jewish child in this day and age is not just a question of finding a name you like. To pick a name is to enter a familial, cultural and religious minefield.

To start with, since the birth of my number two, I have lost a mother, grandfather and grandmother. We have also yet to name a baby after my husband's late father.

To pick a name is to enter a cultural minefield

We would dearly love to name a child after all of them, but four names would be quite a mouthful.

So who do we offend by leaving out? Do we just give up on the men if we have a girl, and vice-versa? Skip the grandparents altogether?

My grandparents found one way around the problem. When my mother was born, they took her to the shul frequented by my grandfather's side of the family, and named her after his great aunt. Then they promptly marched her to my grandmother's shul, and named her after a
relative of hers.

When my parents got married, they actually had to ask a rabbi what name to put on her ketubah.

Perhaps it's the
pregnancy hormones, but I'm already ready to have another baby just for the additional naming opportunities.

Not, I should add, that I actually like most of their names, which sound old-fashioned to me (sorry, relatives). Mordechai? It might be kinder just to call a child "Zaida".

Picking an original name brings its own problems. For instance, we would really like a name that is considered modern in Israel, where we spend a considerable amount of time.

We already messed up once. Dalia, the name of our second daughter, is fairly common in the diaspora, but in Israel is inevitably greeted by "beautiful name", followed, after a short pause, by some variation of the phrase, "…which I haven't heard for 30 years".

I spent my summer holiday in Israel quizzing everyone I met about their children's names – and those of their young relatives, friends and classmates. I discovered two things. First, most Israelis under the age of five have names that were virtually unknown just a decade ago: Hallel, Shacharit, Lihi, and Yahel for girls, for example. Nowadays I'm too British and conservative for such radicalism.

Second, unisex names like Yuval, Amit, Noam, Daniel, Ariel and Adi are still very much "on trend". My niece's school in Haifa even has a female Yonatan and a male Yael.

With the best will in the world, I don't think Borehamwood is ready for my youngest daughter, Jonathan.

Rebecca or Rifka, Rocco or Ra'anan; a Jewish child's name can instantly betray where their parents sit on the religious/cultural spectrum. This is not a problem if your identity is clear-cut.

But we are archetypal boundary-dwelling modern Orthodox. We are looking for a name that is stylish but not secular, religious but not "frummie", Jewish but pronounceable by the rest of the world. Huh? Before we pick a name, perhaps we need therapy to figure out who we actually are.

Or maybe this is our chance to reinvent ourselves. In 2010, the 360th most popular first name in the United States was "Cohen" – according to, a favourite with non-Jewish parents unaware of the Jewish meaning. My husband has always wanted to be a cohen. Perhaps it's not too late for his son…

Miriam Shaviv is a JC columnist

Last updated: 9:57am, September 28 2011