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Can a Child Be Named After a Living Person?

Can a Child Be Named After a Living Person?

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Ashkenazi Jews do not name their children after someone who is alive at the time. Moreover, they won’t name after a deceased individual if a close living relative has the same name. Sephardic Jews, on the other hand, do name their children after living relatives—and it is very much an honor for that relative.

Ashkenazi Jews refrain from naming after living relatives because:

  1. Since it is a widespread custom to name children after deceased parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, naming after a living one could appear as though you're waiting for that person to die, G‑d forbid.1
  2. Out of respect for our parents we don't refer to them by their given names.2

Some say that when in the presence of a parent, you shouldn't use that parent's name even to refer to somebody else.3 For example, if your mother’s name is Sarah, you shouldn't refer to your friend - who is also Sarah - by name in front of your mother. If we would name our children after our living parents—well, you can imagine the confusion!4

But under certain circumstances Ashkenazi parents can give their child a name which is shared by a living relative.

  1. If the relative has two names, some authorities maintain that it is permissible to name a baby after another individual who had only one of the names. So if the grandmother, for example, was named Rebecca Deborah, it would be permissible to name the child either Rebecca or Deborah after a deceased person by that name.
  2. Though quite uncommon, a parent or grandparent can choose to allow the child to bear his/her name.

On a similar note, if a child is being named in honor of a righteous individual or Torah scholar, the namesake can be alive.5

Footnotes
1.

Brit Avot, 8:20, in the name of Noheig Katzon Yosef.

2.

Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 240:2.

3.

ibid.

4.

Chelkat Ya'akov, Yoreh De'ah 136. For more information about this custom, see Shemirat HaGuf V'haNefesh volume II, 154:9.

5.

Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim IV 66.

Eliezer Posner is a former member of the Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team.
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Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org February 6, 2014

Re: Child's middle name in hebrew to be the same name as the mother As the article points out, a parent or grandparent can choose to allow the child to bear his/her name. so if the mother is giving the name, she obviously allows it. Additionally, if they are of Sephardic decent, there is no issue to begin with. Reply

Anonymous February 3, 2014

Child's middle name in hebrew to me the same name as the mother My daugher in law is named after her mother's mother (her grandmother). She plans to give the middle name of her child the honor of being named after her grandmother too. Is this OK? Is this part of the superstition too Reply

Anonymous New York November 26, 2013

The well-respected Sulzberger, Morgenthau, Loeb, Fould and Lehman families have at least one ''Jr'' among them, and they are ashkenazi. Reply

Judy Resnick Far Rockaway, NY May 2, 2012

Dignity to Jewish Names I knew a Sephardic woman who was a second daughter and whose name was Mazal. She named her second daughter Leah for her own mother, the maternal grandmother. So there were three generations of women: the grandmother, Leah bat Mazal; the mother, Mazal bat Leah; and the granddaughter, Leah bat Mazal.

I had something similar in my Ashkenazic family. I was five months pregnant when my father passed away, so when I gave birth I named my son (our sixth child and second boy) after him. So I am Yehudis Sima bas Yosef Chaim, and my son is Yosef Chaim ben Yehudis Sima (only when he needs a refuah, he should only be healthy).

It is a beautiful tradition to use family names, it gives children a sense of their roots, that they came from distinguished people and not from nobody. Not to be snobby or elitist, but to counteract an all-too-common lack of self-esteem: telling a child he's worth something, he's special plus he's named for somebody
who was also special. Reply

Yisroel Meir Phila, PA May 14, 2009

Naming a child after oneself I'm surprised the concept of respect never was mentioned.Yes it is a great honor to have a grandchild named after you.It is therefore incumbent among Sephardim for a father to give honor to his Dad, Mom, or in-laws by naming a child after them. as RR Ezer wrote However I've never heard of Seph(cerainly not Ashk) custom to name a child after a parent. That would be akin to the non-Jewish custom of "Junior." As I understand our custom, that would be the height of Ga'avah/conceit to take an opportunity to honor someone & use that opp'ty to honor oneself.I do know someone named David son of David, who was named for his father, who, tragically, died before he was born. There is discussion of this in halachic literature &there is a famous story about such a case w R Shlomo Kluger of about 100 yrs ago, who was asked on the day of a bris, as the father lay dying, if they should wait until the end of the day to see if they could name after dad. "Do the bris now & give the dad merit! Dad lived! Reply

Stephen Weinstein Camarillo, CA via chabadcamarillo.com November 18, 2007

Financial implications In the United States, it has recently become unwise to name a child for a person who will live at the same address as the child. There have been several cases of persons who share both a name and an address having difficulty in obtaining credit, because creditors and credit report preparers tend to falsely assuming that any person with the same name and address as the debtor must be the debtor. Reply

robert raphael azar brooklyn, ny November 15, 2007

naming a child dear rabbi posner,

i am of sephardic descent and it was a great honor to name my daughter after my mom and my son after my dad. my brother did the same so when we are all together for meals (shabbat, holidays etc) we need to make it clear who we are talking too, grandpa mal, mal robert, cousin mal eddie. we also have 4 sylvia's in attendance on these occasions...

another interesting point is that the first boy and the first girl are named after the paternal grandparents, the second boy/second girls are named after the maternal grandparents. the third boy b"h is often named david and the third girl is truly a freebie. b"h we should all have much nachat from our children and grandchildren and celebrate many semachot with them.

thanks for listening and kol tov. Reply

Vivienne Cape Town, South Africa July 29, 2010

Why Ashkenazi don't name their children after a li I was told (and I must add I rather like the concept) we don't name children after a living relative as when the time of death is near the angels don't know who they should take. Reply

Sammy Ekol New York, NY June 23, 2009

Oops! my bad There I was, self-righteously demanding that you read the article before commenting, and I didn't even read your comment carefully! Man, I gotta slow down. Reply

ashkenazi chick June 23, 2009

Hey Sammy You misread my comment. The sephardi family I knew thought it was a superstition; that's not what I think. I preferred to give my children names after the dead, my eldest after his recently deceased great-grandfather (which brought much joy to his bereaved son) and my youngest, who was named after a childless aunt. In doing so, I honored family, which is paramount.
As for the Madoff comment, isn't it interesting how many achieved great wealth, have names on buildings, charities etc. but were crooks themselves? A huge amount of Yeshiva Univ's money was derived from crooked dealings. Do they give it back? Oh, different topic. Just wondering tho'. Reply

J.E.K. Ocala, FL June 22, 2009

Naming after living relatives My parents were superstitious. They believed that naming a child after a living relative would result in the death, within a year, of either the relative or the child - based on the fact that this had always happened. We ignored this and named our eldest son after his great-grandfather. The great-grandfather died within the year. As a practical matter, I have noticed that children want to "live up to" their namesake. Someone still living has obvious flaws while a person passed is remembered only for the good, which makes them better role models. Reply

Sammy Ekol New York, NY June 4, 2009

RE: "balogna superstition" Read the article! It's not a superstition. It's a sign of respect. Of course, Sephardim express their respect for their parents differently. Reply

Ashkenazi chick and proud of it June 4, 2009

Naming after the living I dated a Sephardi guy who was named after his living grandfather; his family saw it as honoring the patriarch. They think the Ashkenazi "superstition" is bologna but they were also the most elitist group of people I've ever seen. Reply

Anonymous February 6, 2009

Sefardim do it often? I really don't think all Sefardim name their children after a living parent or grandparent. Reply

George Wasilla February 3, 2009

Naming after the living Naming after a living person can be a big risk. Though he seems like a great guy today, tomorrow he might turn out to be a Madoff. Better wait it out until you can make a full analysis of his life as a whole, and then make your kid bear his name. Reply

Faye Ramos Toronto, ON February 1, 2009

I'm on the process of conversion and in search of meaningful Jewish name. My mother's name is Ruth. I'm planning on taking her name when I'm converted. Since she's not Jewish would it be legit for me to take her name? Reply

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