Naming Children

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Names should only be a happy topic that elevates us and serves as a connection to the souls of great members of the Jewish people, not a source of strife and cause of Machaloket. There are many laws and customs regarding the names we give our children. Some are meant to maintain peace between the families, while others have the well-being of the child in mind.

Naming After the Living

  1. Generally speaking, Ashkenazim do not name children after living people[1] for fear of shortening the other person's life[2] or to avoid violating a living parent's honor by calling the child the same name as the parent in his presence.[3]
  2. Some say that if there is no reason to pick a particular name, even Ashkenazim are advised to choose the name of one of the Neviim or a recognized Tzaddik and genius of our times, even if he's still alive.[4] Others allow naming after a living person if it will give the namesake tremendous satisfaction and raise his low spirits.[5]
  3. Sephardim in general have the custom to name children after living relatives, starting with the father’s parents and then the mother’s, unless there are additional factors such as a loss of the mother’s parent, in which case the paternal grandfather’s Mechilah would be needed.[6]
  4. If one is naming after both parents (such as to appease everybody), the name of the paternal father should come first.[7]
  5. Even by Sephardim this Minhag is not ubiquitous. In Morocco and Iraq, specifically, they would not name after the living, while in Algeria and Tunis, they would. Some say that if the living relative gives permission, it's nevertheless ok in any location.[8]
  6. In the case of a mixed marriage, where the mother of the baby’s family does allow it, but the father's does not, the baby may be named for its mother’s living family members.[9]
  7. If the child is the product of a broken marriage, some recommend not naming the baby for members of either family to avoid aggravation from the opposite side.[10]
  8. Ultimately, every family should follow its custom.[11]

Giving a Child Two Names

  1. Although it’s unclear when the practice of giving a child two names began, as we don’t find anybody in Tanach, Shas, or even Rishonim (except for one exception) with two names, it certainly has become commonplace to do so.[12]
  2. Adding or modifying a name avoids issues of naming after living relatives or people whom one should not name after, such as a Rasha or someone who died young/tragically, according to those who are concerned.[13] However, according to some, a double name is one composite name and not two partial ones, so it does not bear any connection to the two parts it represents. Therefore, one would not be in fulfillment of honoring anybody by using two names.[14] Many authorities disagree, though,[15] but some say that using two names for two people would nevertheless not be as potent as purely naming after one person.[16]. Indeed, this may be parallel to a similar discussion in Hilchot Gittin regarding the same issue of whether one name is two names or one composite one[17], some think it's an independent issue.[18]
  3. Having two names is therefore relevant to the following scenarios:
    1. Naming a baby
      1. after two people
      2. after a living person with an added name
      3. after a Rasha with an added name
      4. after someone who died young with an added name
      5. with the same name as his late parent or sibling with an added name
    2. Marrying someone with the same name as one’s parent but with an added name
    3. Writing one’s name in a Ketubah, Get, or other contract
      1. Partially
      2. Inverted
      3. On two lines
    4. Which Pesukim to recite at the end of the Amidah for those who recite a Pasuk that begins and ends with the first and last letters of one’s name.
  4. It isn't considered that the person died young, according to many poskim if they lived until 50. Other say 60.[19]

Naming After Tzadikim

  1. If parents wanted to name their child after a certain tzadik and later they find out that the tzadik had a middle name they can add it to the name of their child.[20]

Naming After Non-Religious

  1. It is permitted to name after a non-religious relative if they had a normal Jewish name such as Avraham, Yitzchak, Moshe, Aharon, etc. In that case, the parents can name after the relative but have in mind that they're naming after the tzadik who originally had that name. Also, if it won't cause a fight, the parents can add an additional name so that the name isn't identical to the non-religious relative's name.[21]

Specific Names

  1. It is the minhag Yisrael to name even after angels such as Refael, Michael, Gavriel, Azriel or Uriel.[22]
  2. Although Rabbi Yehuda Hachasid advised that people shouldn't call their children by the names Yehuda and Shmuel the practice of the world is to use those names and assume that Rabbi Yehuda Hachasid only meant this stricture for his descendants.[23]

Changing or Adding a Name

  1. Initially a person should not change their Hebrew name completely but there are times when it is possible to change your name completely.[24]
  2. If someone is very sick it is allowed and possibly considered a meritorious act to give them an additional name.[25]
  3. For a woman if they add another name that name should not be Rachel, Bat Sheva, Tamar, or Leah, however, good names include Chana, Sarah, and Yocheved.[26]
  4. If a parent gave their child a name by mistake or gave them a bad name it is permitted to change their name.[27]
  5. If parents mistakenly named their child a name that was someone else who is living in the family and that living relative is bothered by this, the parent should add another name to their child and call him by this new name. If parents named their child two names and one of the names was the name of a living relative who is bothered by this the parents should just call their child by the other name. If even that bothers the living relative they should change the name completely.[28]
  6. If they named after a certain person and mistakenly thought the name was another name, the naming doesn't count and they can change it.[29]
  7. If the father made a mistake at the time of the kriyat shem they shouldn't change it. If the one saying the kriyat shem made a mistake it is irrelevant and the father established is the real name.[30]
  8. When changing the name of a married person they need to write a new Ketubah. They should consult with an expert rabbi on this matter.[31]

Further Reading

  1. Shalmei Simcha chapter 67
  2. Shma Garim by R' Mordechai Gross
  3. Sefer Vayikareh Shemo BeYisrael (Oppenheim)
  4. Sefer Vayikareh Shemo BeYisrael (Levi)
  5. Choosing a Name for a Child by Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz


  1. Sefer HaChassidim 460
  2. Yehuda Ya’aleh (vol. 2 Even HaEzer, Choshen Mishpat 106; Yoreh Deah 246)
  3. Sdei Chemed (Chattan veKallah 5), Chelkat Yaakov Yoreh Deah Siman 136, Aseh Lecha Rav 2:57 and 6:69
  4. Iggerot Moshe (Orach Chaim 4:66). See Minchat Elazar vol. 4 Siman 27 and Beis Yitzchok 5747 page 5
  5. Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv named his third child, a daughter, after their childless neighbor as an act of kindness to uplift her gloomy spirits. HaShakdan vol. 3 page 182; Rav Elyashiv, Yehuda and Malky Heimowitz, Artscroll Mesorah, p. 109.
  6. Yabia Omer vol. 5 Yoreh De’ah 21, Yalkut Yosef (Sova Semachot vol. 2 10:2)
  7. Ben Ish Chai (Shanah II Shoftim 27), Yalkut Yosef (Sova Semachot vol. 2 10:3)
  8. Netivot HaMaarav pg 139, Nahagu Ha’Am Shonot 7, Ateret Avot vol. 3 pg. 80,
  9. Yabia Omer vol. 5 Yoreh De’ah 21, Yalkut Yosef (Sova Semachot vol. 2 10:4), Shalmei Simcha page 458
  10. Chashukei Chemed Gittin 26b
  11. Shaarei Halacha uMinhag vol. 3 Yoreh Deah pg 297
  12. Noda BeYehuda (Orach Chaim II 123), Chatam Sofer (Even HaEzer II 18)
  13. See above sources about naming after the living concerns and Torat Chesed (Even HaEzer 39)
  14. Chazon Ish as reported in Pe’er HaDor vol. 4 page 200, Teshuvot veHanhagot (vol. 1 606, 608), Orchot Rabbeinu (vol. 4 Keriat Shem 5 in the new edition, and vol. 3 Brit Milah 3 in the old edition)
  15. Ben Ish Chai (Shanah II, Shofetim 27), Yam Shel Shelomo (Gittin 4:31)
  16. Shalmei Simcha page 452
  17. See Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 129) and commentary, as well as Sdei Chemed (vol. 6 Maarechet Get Siman 35-36), and Avnei Nezer (Even HaEzer 175) at great length
  18. Mishpat HaKetubah vol. 2 pages 86, 139
  19. Shemot B'aretz p. 113 quotes that Rav Chaim Kanievsky held that if a person lived until 50 that isn't considered young and you can name after him without adding another name. Rav Elyashiv held that if they lived until 60 that isn't considered having died young.
  20. Shemot Baaretz p. 89 quotes Rav Shach about someone who named their child Meir after Rav Meir Shapiro and really his name was Yehuda Meir and so they added the name Yehuda later on.
  21. Teshuvot Vehanhagot 1:604
  22. Shemot Baaretz (Rav Chaim Kanievsky, p. 39)
  23. Shemot Baaretz (Rav Chaim Kanievsky, p. 34)
  24. Shma Garim 3:1
  25. Shma Garim 3:2 based on Rosh Hashana 16b,
  26. Shma Garim 3:3
  27. Shma Garim 3:5
  28. Shma Garim 3:6
  29. Shma Garim 3:7
  30. Shma Garim 3:8
  31. Shma Garim 3:12