What to Expect at a Baby Naming

Rabbi Karen Companez

Jewish babies are given Hebrew names shortly after they are born.  A brief ceremony is performed, which often includes friends and family members of the new baby.

What is a Jewish baby naming ceremony?

This is a brief ceremony during which the baby is given his or her Hebrew name. The chosen Hebrew name could be a name that sounds like the baby's secular/English name, or one that begins with the same sound as the baby's secular/English name. Often a Hebrew name is selected because the meaning of the word has significance to the family. Ashkenazic Jews (those of European ancestry) often select a name that commemorates a deceased relative of the baby in order to honor that person's memory. Sephardic Jews (those of Spanish and Middle Eastern ancestry) often follow the custom of naming their children after living relatives.

During the ceremony, there is an opportunity for the parents of the new baby to explain their choice of name and its significance to them. Blessing are said during the ceremony acknowledging that the child has been entered into a brit, a covenant, with God. Blessings are also recited for the baby's well-being. The traditional wish is offered - that this child may grow into a life of study of Torah, of loving relationships, and the performance of good deeds.

When does a Jewish baby naming take place?

If a baby boy is being circumcised, (b'rit milah) typically done on the eighth day after birth, the boy is given his Hebrew name at the same time.

Baby namings for girls can occur at any time, although they are usually done in the first few weeks of the baby's life.

Where does a Jewish baby naming take place?

Baby namings can be held in people's homes,or they can be held at the synagogue. A b'rit milah is usually held in the morning. A baby naming held in a synagogue can take place at a Shabbat service, either Friday evening or Saturday morning.

Why do Jewish babies have a Hebrew name?

The baby's Hebrew name will be used at life-cycle events throughout his or her life. When Jewish children begin their religious education, they participate in a Consecration  ceremony, at which their Hebrew name will be used. At a child's bar mitzvah (for boys) or bat mitzvah (for girls) - the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony at the age of 13 -  he or she is called to the Torah for the first time by their Hebrew name.  At a Jewish wedding, the Hebrew names of the couple are used on the ketubah, their Jewish marriage document. When a person is called to the Torah, an honor bestowed during a synagogue service, he or she is called by their Hebrew name. When the person dies, his or her Hebrew name will be used during the funeral and burial, and will then be inscribed on their tombstone.

A person's Hebrew name may also be used at other times during his or her life, but these are the most common times at which it is used.

Are there any traditional greetings?

It is traditional to say mazel tovmazel tovמַזָּל טוֹבLit. "a good star." Colloquially, "congratulations." , which colloquially means "congratulations," on the occasion of a baby naming. It is a happy time of great pride and joy. It is customary to say mazel tov to the baby's parents, grandparents, and any other relatives present at the baby naming ceremony.

Will food be served at a baby naming?

There is always food at Jewish celebrations and certainly at baby namings, times of great happiness and joy. Usually, this takes the form of a buffet, as baby namings are often held in people's homes and the time right after the ceremony is fairly informal.When held in a synagogue, refreshments or a light meal may be served after the service.

Watch this Bimbam video to learn more: