Naming and Welcoming Ceremony on the Birth of a Child
In the Bible, names are always more than pretty sounds. They give voice to our most deep felt sentiments. Biblical names are an expression of powerful emotions in the present and for deeply felt hopes for the future.
The Midrash teaches that each of us acquires three names in the course of a lifetime. The first is the one we are given at birth by our parents. The second is the one that others bestow on us as they get to know us. And the third is the one we achieve on our own, and it is the most important of the three. We know this to be the case from Bezalel who was designated in the Torah to construct the Tabernacle, as it is written: “See, Adonai has singled out by name Bezalel (Exodus 35:30).” The rabbis interpreted this to mean that Bezalel was chosen on the basis of the good name which he had acquired for himself.
Even though this is an ancient text, it leads us to a veritable celebration of human self-discovery. The only name that really counts is the one that does not come our way passively. And yet, I would contend that the well-chosen name given at birth can serve as wellspring and vision. We all come from somewhere. The more we can bring with us to the task of turning our lives into a moral exemplar or a work of art, the more of a blessing we shall become. Without the building block of the first name, the third name won’t amount to much. The challenge is to integrate our past into our individuality and to make it work for us.
Sample Naming Ceremony
The child is carried into the room and the guests say: Barukh ha-ba–Blessed is one who comes in the name of love. The candles are lit.
READER: There is a new light in your hearts and in your home; these candles celebrate the birth…. Out of the creative darkness (she/he) has come…. These candles celebrate….
READER: The unending generations of life reveal the unity of an ever-changing universe. Hidden in birth and death, the roaring winds, and the gentle voices of loved ones….
READER: On this _____ day of the month of ___, 19/20__, corresponding to the _ day of _____, 57, of the Hebrew calendar, _ give to their (daughter/son) the English name _____ and the Hebrew name ____. May (she/he) grow in health and happiness. On this day, they declare that they give to their daughter/son the name “Jew,” and thus bring her/him into….
The Parents’ Declaration It is the way of parents to care for their children. Yet we would not protect overmuch…. As the poet has written: Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you, they belong not to you. You man give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts…. It is in this spirit that today _________ and I delcare to you: Your existence is your possession, not ours. Out of love and concern we intrude in your life for a little while…. You are not in this world to live up to my expecations! You are you and I am I. Blessed are you (my/our) child in the newness….
Grandparents or Godparents: We give thanks for the gift of life, and stand in wonder before the awesome task…. Blessed is the Way that makes parent rejoice with child. May the Ineffable One fill this child with wonder…. and attain the joy of Torah, chuppah and ma-asim tovim: wisdom, love and good deeds.
READER: May _______’s life be one of security and trust. May _______’s life shine with dignity and freedom. May _______’s life know the creative harmony of peace. May you bring your daughter/son into the ways of Torah Chuppah, v’Ma-asim Tovim: into the way of the spirit, the way of ongoing life, and the way of love. Amen.
What do you say at a birth?
Welcome, baby, to the world–this amazing and scary place. Welcome to light and dark, hot and cold, good and evil. Welcome to love and hate, truth and lies, good times and bad. Welcome to the human pilgrimage from birth to death. Anything can happen here, baby. It’s hot in summer, cold in winter; it’s round and crowded and wet. Everything is possible. There’s only one main rule in life that I can think of, baby: be kind. Welcome to the companionship of the human family. (With apologies to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)