13 January 2009

What's in a Name?

Here I am, being anonymous for the first time in my life and all I can think about is names.

Maybe it's partly because of all of these pregnant/birthing friends.
One baby was born 11 days ago. He has a Hebrew name and an English name. Another was born Sunday, she is Grace Katherine (she's Catholic). And we are still waiting on 3 more. Yes, I have a lot of pregnant friends. If pregnancy were a contagious condition I'd be much more likely to have a baby myself one of these days!

I was given only English names as a baby, but both first and middle were named for grandfathers' Hebrew names. Then in college I was given Ariel. I 'named' my grandmother Naomi Ruth, and just last fall after Simchat Torah I helped my mother choose her Hebrew name, Na'amah. My grandfather is Ya'acov. G-d willing I have children someday, I would like for them to have one name, and have it be a Hebrew name. Of course, if I adopt, I might have a child with a birth name and a Hebrew name - if that is the case (and I hope so, I have always wanted to adopt) I have often wondered what the Torah says about birth names and adoptive names. Turns out - this is the week for an answer.

Verse 15: The king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives. The name of one of them was Shifrah, and the name of the other was Puah.

I read today that Yocheved – Shifrah – shin fey resh – means to make beautiful – when a new baby would be born, she would clean it up and make it beautiful. Miriam – Puah – would make sounds to the newborn to make it happy. It says G-d gave them names based on the chesed each did. My question is (and I have not been able to find an answer) Did only the Torah (G-d) call them Shifra and Puah, or did also Pharaoh, or did only the women? Or the babies? Who called these women this? I don't have any answers. If anyone can find anything, I would love to learn it.

Later . . .

Verse 1: A man of the house of Levi went and married the daughter of Levi.
Verse 2: The woman conceived and bore a son. She saw that he was [exceptionally] good, and she kept him hidden for three months.

About this section I learned something new today. That seeing that he was "good" actually meant that she (the unnamed Yocheved) named him "Tov" (or Toviah or Tevye). According to some sources, Moshe actually had a name given to him by his birth parents as well as by (also unnamed) Batya - Pharaoh's daughter.

Verse 10: When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moshe, for she said, "I drew him from the water."

We are told this is evidence of how much G-d loved Batya because we call Moshe by the name Batya gave him and how it expressed his character. His whole life – he himself drew other people out of trouble.

Batya has always been one of my favorite people. I love that she defied her father. I love that she was a rebel with a cause. I love that she reached her arm out and did the impossible. I love that she could have been comfortable in the palace and had her maids bring her water, and instead she went down to the water where there was death and horror just in case maybe there was someone there she could save. I love this woman. I love her as a person and I love her as a mother.

I love that she raised her son in a palace and managed to also teach him all of the values he would need to be among our people living in the desert. I love that she paid wages to a slave. I love that she spoke with respect to Miriam. I think she is fantastic.

Prior to today, I never questioned her naming Moshe.

But then I came across that verse - and OF COURSE Yocheved thought her baby was good. Every mother who wants to have a child sees her baby and thinks he or she is good, right? Why would she need to tell us that? Why would the Torah need to tell us that? What was really going on over there?

Rashi, Ramban, and assorted others jumped right into the discussion and cleared things up . . .
she named him they said - Tov, Toviah . . . or, like the milkman, Tevye.

I have never thought of naming one of my children "Moses" or "Moshe" - it always seemed like a lot of pressure to me.

I have, however, thought of naming a girl Batya - even with the pressure, what a great name!

Tevye sounds like an old man to me (now, why would I have that image I wonder!) . . . but Toviah I like, and perhaps someday I will have an opportunity to raise a child to whom I did not give birth. Some other woman will have conceived, carried, and delivered him. And she will have named him, and it might be the name he is known by - and knows himself by. Perhaps for him, a Hebrew name like Toviah would be most appropriate. The name that means no matter what he is called by the rest of the world, in my house, as my child, I will always see in him what is good.

1 comment:

  1. my mother always says that she hated my name until i was born. it was either philip or phyllis and she didn't particularly like the girl version...but then she says i came along, and it was my name, and therefore she loved it because she loved me. sometimes i think the name makes the person and sometimes the other way around.

    p.s. i'm a big fan of batya too.