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Question: Is it possible to give two of one’s children the same name? I’ve seen this more than once where a later born child was given the same Hebrew name as an older sibling; however, their English names are different.

A Reader
Los Angeles, CA

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Answer: Last week we noted the evidence of several biblical examples to the effect that naming a child at birth by the father or/and the mother is an ancient custom. A baby boy is named at his bris, and the appropriate blessings are recited. Giving a name is a significant act for it represents an important aspect of the child’s personality, and each child should have a name that is his alone (especially where siblings are concerned).

Although it would seem that there was a case of brothers with almost identical or similar names in the Talmudic era (see Rashi on Ketubbot 89b and Tosafot on Bava Batra 7b), the practice in our days is not to give two brothers the same name.

 

Rabbi Yisrael Ze’ev Horowitz, zt”l, who served as Av Beth Din in Ujhely, Hungary, and later resided in Tiberias, Israel, deals with a similar query in his Beth Yisrael (Yoreh Deah, Responsum 48). It is a case where the father instructed the mohel who had just circumcised the child that he was to be named after his own deceased father, Binyamin Ze’ev. Some of the people present, just as happened in your case, remarked that it was not proper to use the name Ze’ev since that was the name of the mother’s father. And indeed, when the Misheberach for the baby was recited at the conclusion of the ceremony, only the first name, Binyamin, was mentioned as the child’s name. The second name was not mentioned, and was forgotten as far as this child was concerned.

Half a year later the maternal grandfather (whose name was Ze’ev) found out that his grandson had originally been named Binyamin Ze’ev after his departed paternal grandfather, and he let it be known that he would not mind if the child was called Binyamin Ze’ev, in accordance with the name he was given at his bris. The child’s father now wanted to know what should be done, that is, whether the child could now be called with the second name too, given that he himself had acquiesced at the bris, albeit after the naming, to mention only the first name, Binyamin.

Rabbi Horowitz answered that the naming of a child is the father’s prerogative, and therefore others cannot change the name. He supports this statement with the biblical proof of the naming of Yaakov’s son Binyamin (Genesis 35:18): “And it came to pass, as her [Rachel’s] soul was departing, for she died, that she called his name Ben Oni [lit. son of my sorrow], but his father called him Binyamin [lit. son of the right].” Rabbi Horowitz points out that since Rachel died we would have thought that wishes made on the deathbed would be the main concern, as is usually the case, but Yaakov nevertheless called him Binyamin (because it was his prerogative) and that is the name by which he is known. Other people certainly do not have the right to change a child’s name. In the case under discussion, the father gave the child the name Binyamin Ze’ev and only recanted because he was told about the name of his wife’s father. But it was done in error, out of fear that his father-in-law would mind.

Rabbi Horowitz adds that it is true that Leah (and Rachel) named all the children that were born prior, and the names given remained because Yaakov had no objection. But in the one case where he did not agree with the name that was given, the Torah makes it clear to us that it is his decision that matters because it is the father’s prerogative to name the child.

The Beit Yosef in his commentary on the Tur (Yoreh Deah 265, Hilchot Mila) quotes a responsum of the Ritva regarding the text for naming a child when the mother has been widowed. In that case the mother assumes the prerogative of naming the child. The text mentions that the child’s entry into the covenant of Abraham serves as a comfort and atonement for the father’s soul.

In reference to the case at hand, Rabbi Horowitz also quotes the Mechaber (Yoreh Deah 240:9), which rules that a person is required to honor parents even after their deaths, and that it has become customary to name a child after a departed parent. [When a girl is named, it is done at the reading of the Torah when a Misheberach is recited for the mother who has just given birth.] Although both the Tur and the Mechaber agree that honor is also due to the father-in-law (and of course the mother-in-law), but the honor due a parent takes precedence. Rabbi Horowitz therefore rules that the original name given by the father at the bris should and does remain the child’s name.

All of the above underscores the importance of the name(s) given to a child and the fact that each child should have his own name. As you noted, you have witnessed this more than once, this is mainly due to the fact that many children, especially among the less observant, are called by their English names, as we noted earlier. In fact some don’t even remember their Hebrew names. Hebrew names are very often given in the manner of naming after some departed relative, be it a grandparent, aunt or uncle (and others as well). Imbuing that child with the spirit of a life of Torah will be the greatest honor to a departed relative or friend as well as to all of Klal Yisrael. I’ll never forget the campaign from my youth waged by the great Pirchei (Agudas Yisrael) Reb Shmuel Goldstein, the founder of Goldstein Press; “Hebrew names were not meant for tombstones, use them in good health.”

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.