Batya, how are you?” the deep baritone voice with a clipped British accent pierced my thoughts. I looked up from the project I was engrossed in to find my cousin, Kasriel, settling into a chair on the other side of my desk.

I saw that he had something on his mind when he quickly cut to the chase. “Who named you?” he asked me.

“Is this a trick question?” I joked.

With poker-face solemnity, he insisted that I answer him. “Who named you?”

I smiled and said, “Why my parents, of course! Who named you?”

Excitedly, he removed a sheet of paper from a folder in the battered brown leather briefcase he was carrying and reached across my desk to hand it to me. “The Rebbe named you, Batya. The Rebbe named you three years before you were born,” he exclaimed. “Take a look at this astounding letter that the Rebbe wrote to Zeidy. It was in an archive of his documents.”

In contemplative silence, I read the letter. I was relieved when Kasriel, late for a meeting, hurriedly took his leave of me. I felt compelled to reread the letter a few more times in an attempt to process all of the details, and the deep emotions and feelings that it evoked within me.

The Rebbe’s letter, addressed to my grandfather, Pinchas Sudak, was dated three weeks after my namesake grandmother had passed away, leaving him a young widower, shocked in disbelief and intense grief.

“We Jews are ‘believers, the sons of believers,’1 our faith transcends intellect and we believe that though the body has been taken, the eternal soul remains,” the Rebbe writes.

He stated that the Torah gives us clear instruction on what to do to benefit the soul, and instructed my grandfather to put forth concerted efforts to search for a shidduch (a marriage partner) for his daughter, Batsheva, my mother. And “when your daughter has a daughter, in a good and successful time, she should be called, with the consent of both parents, Chaya Batya, may she be blessed with a long life and good years.” The Rebbe concluded the letter directing my grandfather to strengthen his trust and belief in G‑d, the Creator and Director of the world, the One who is good and all that He does is for the good” and blessed my grandfather with revealed good.

My name, Chaya Batya, the Rebbe named me, before my parents even met each other!

The Rebbe's letter to my grandfather.
The Rebbe's letter to my grandfather.

Social scientists believe that names produce a Dorian Gray effect, influencing personality, character, self-perception and even physical appearance.

“Like his name, so is he.”2 A name is an indicator of one’s potential and predictor of his or her possible future.

It’s not our names that force us to be what we are. It is what we are that transmits itself in a profoundly prophetic manner to those entrusted with the holy task of choosing our names. It is a message from G‑d entrusted to our name-givers in order to help us define our mission on earth.

At a Passover Seder, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, was asked: “If we are still in exile, what is the point of discussing the liberation from Egypt?” To which he responded: “It reminds us that we have the ability and the strength to leave exile.” Exile is only a state of concealment. The true identity and destiny of one’s soul is always intact.

Today, as the world faces serious challenges and the future seems precarious—today, as I was giving in to feelings of hopelessness and despair after months of loneliness and fear, I needed to be reminded of the true identity found in my name. With renewed awareness of the character, essence and destiny found in the name the Rebbe, together with my parents, gifted to me, I will carry my grandmother’s name with pride and find the inner strength and ability to persevere and overcome.