Judaism places great importance on the symbolism of naming a baby, viewing the name as the first stamp of parental values. Many Jewish families host baby-naming ceremonies where they bestow a Hebrew name on their child. The Hebrew name may or may not be related to the English name on the baby’s birth certificate, but is considered in the Jewish religion to be the baby’s “true” name -- the name by which it is called by God, regardless of whether the child goes by that name legally or socially.
Traditional Girls' Namings
In classical Judaism, a baby girl receives her name in a synagogue at the first Torah reading after her birth. One or both parents are called for an “aliyah” at the Torah reading. The officiant recites a prayer for the health of the mother, during the course of which he announces the baby’s name: “May her name be called in Israel (name of baby), the daughter of (father’s Hebrew name) ... for the infant’s father will contribute to charity on their behalf.” The parents might host a reception for the congregation after the service or a private party in their home at a later date, where they explain their choice of name and if the baby is amenable, allow guests to admire the child.
Traditional Boys' Namings
Jewish baby boys usually receive their names at the circumcision ceremony eight days after their birth. After the circumcision is complete and certain other prayers have been recited, an officiant (any honored guest) prays for God to “preserve this child for his father and mother, and may his name be called in Israel (baby’s name), the son of (father’s Hebrew name). ... May God bless the tender, circumcised child (baby’s name), son of (father’s name) and send him a complete recovery, because he has entered the covenant.” After the ceremony, the hosts provide guests with a meal -- usually brunch -- where they publicly explain their choice of name. Guests who are squeamish are under no obligation to watch the circumcision.
Many American Jews, especially those who are not active members of a synagogue or temple, have originated a variety of creative modern customs regarding baby-naming ceremonies. Some plant trees as part of the celebration, light candles or combine the ceremony with a community service project. The essence of the ceremony is to explain the meaning of the baby’s new name, the parents’ hopes for the child and the symbolism of the activities chosen for the day.
Etiquette for Hosts
If you are members of a synagogue, temple or another close-knit community, follow the mores of your Jewish subculture regarding whom to invite and what sort of food to serve. For example, most synagogues require you invite the whole congregation to receptions taking place after services, and they will announce events to the communities. For events in your home, be as open as possible in inviting family and friends, but you are entitled to an intimate gathering if you want one. Don’t ask for or expect gifts, but feel free to accept them if they are offered, and remember to write thank-you notes afterward. If a rabbi is coming to your home to preside over a ceremony, check with his secretary or others who know him to find out the amount of the customary honorarium in your community. If your baby naming coincides with a circumcision, the mohel will discuss his payment requirements -- if any -- with you beforehand.
Etiquette for Guests
Don’t criticize the venue or impose your theological views onto the hosts. If the naming ceremony is taking place in someone’s home, it is kind but not necessary to offer to bring a food dish; check whether there are any kosher observances to follow. You can offer to help set up or clean up. While this is not a baby shower, it would be a good idea to bring a small gift for the baby, except to Orthodox ceremonies on Saturdays, when strictly observant Jews do not accept gifts.
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- The Complete ArtScroll Siddur; Rabbi Nosson Scherman (translator)
Sarah Bronson received her Master of Arts in journalism from New York University in 2002. Since then her clients have included "The New York Times," "Glamour," "Executive Travel," "Fodor's," "The Jerusalem Report," "ESPN—The Magazine," the "Washington Times" and "Figure" magazine. Her areas of expertise include biotechnology, health, education, travel, Judaism and fashion.