This past Sunday I attended a Baby Naming for a very special little girl named Ari. I have only attended a few Baby Namings and Bris parties/ceremonies in my life and they are always fun and joyous! It is always amazes me the joy a newborn baby brings to anyone’s home. The birth of a child is one of the most life-changing and amazing events in our lives. A baby touches everyone in a family, from parents and siblings to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. Everyone wants to be involved in some way or another, whether it is a mom flying in from out of town or friends sending new baby baskets of gifts.
Embarrassingly, after all of these ceremonies I have attended, I don’t know the history behind the tradition of a Jewish Baby Naming or Bris and I decided to do a bit of research. Our world is one big melting pot and I love learning about all religions and the meanings of various ceremonies (I think this is the Berkeley hippie child in me where I grew up!).
In Jewish traditions and all religions alike, naming children is serious business. We often go to great lengths to find the “perfect” name—just the right mix of meaning, tradition and beauty. It might be the name of a loved one, or someone we highly respect, or a word that brings back a beautiful personal memory.
While there are no hard rules to picking names in the Jewish tradition, there are some customs that Jews generally follow. For example, it is customary for Ashkenazi Jews (descendents of Eastern Europe, Germany, Poland , Russia ) to name their babies after a deceased relative. However, for Sephardic Jews (of Spanish and Portuguese descent), it is acceptable and an honor to name a child after a living relative (of course one would ask permission first). Either way, it is not necessary to use the exact name, a first initial will do. In this case, Ari was named after her great grandmother, Ann, and they both have the same first initial.
Here is a picture of both Ari, and one with Ari and her cousin Bari. Bari had her baby naming a week ago too – they are cousins, Mazel Tov!
In addition to a child’s English name, Jewish babies are also given a Hebrew name. Certain ceremonies—including Bris, Baby Naming, Bar/Bat Mitzvah and ketubah-signing – require a Hebrew name. The Hebrew name can be a close translation from the baby’s actual name. It could also just share the first letter. However, some parents may choose a Hebrew name that sounds beautiful, has a beautiful translation, or reminds them of something meaningful in their own lives.
It is customary to serve refreshments or a meal following the ceremony, beginning with the ha-motzi, a prayer over the bread.
Here are some terms to know for a Baby Naming that I wish I knew before!
- brit bat (the covenant of a daughter)
- simchat bat (celebration of a daughter)
- hakhnasat bat l’brit (the entering of a daughter into the covenant)
For boys, this tradition is called a “Bris”. That means eight days after the birth, a bris, or circumcision ceremony, will take place. Friends and family are usually present at a bris because it is a time to celebrate.
I have learned from Jewish moms that a bris can be both joyous and stressful. I have been told that it is great to bring home a healthy boy and be surrounded by your friends and family, but as a mom, it can be difficult to see your baby being circumcised. However, knowing that generations of baby boys have survived this moment, can be comforting.
Following the ceremony, which only takes a few minutes, food is served—most typically bagels and lox, baked goods such as rugelach, black and white cookies, babka and more. The bris is usually held at someone’s home or in the synagogue and usually begins with the ha-motzi (prayer over the bread, which is called challah).
The bris is perhaps the most observed tradition in the Jewish religion. While some think circumcision is a matter of hygiene, it is actually a biblical commandment. The circumcision is performed by a mohel, an observant Jew who is formally trained as a ritual circumciser as well as in the laws and traditions of Judaism.
MAZEL TOV TO ARI AND BARI!