Q&A: Can you help us choose an interfaith baby name?
We are an interfaith couple looking for a baby name that would work with both the Jewish and Christian faiths. What can you recommend to us?
For interfaith couples, the decision of what to name a child can be a potential battlefield of religious and family obligations. Luckily biblical names such as Daniel, Jacob, Isaac, Abigail, Hannah, and Sarah work well in both Jewish and Christian families. In addition, many saints names—Luke, Andrew, Audrey, and Chloe—are Hebrew or Greek in origin.
In some Jewish families, it is customary to give a child the first or middle name of a deceased family member. For others, the custom is more relaxed, and the child need only have a name that begins with the same letter of the honored relative’s name—this could be the perfect solution when trying to find a baby name that honors both Jewish and Christian faiths and names. For instance, whether you have a boy or a girl, Uncle Leonard can be honored by choosing a name that begins with the letter “L” such as Landon, Liam, or Logan, while great grandmother Edith can be remembered with a name beginning with the letter “E” such as Evangeline, Estelle, or Esme.
Pick the traditions that are most meaningful to you. Some folks like to follow tradition to the letter, while others adapt a more flexible attitude to meet family obligations. “Our challenge was searching for names that we thought were both beautiful and meaningful,” explains Lisa Dicerto-Tischler who grew up Roman Catholic before converting to Judaism, and is well versed in both faiths. “We looked for names we liked and ways to honor our relatives. If you are a Jew of Eastern European descent, as my husband is, you try to name your children after a relative who has died. Sephardic Jews name after living relatives.” The combination of first and middle names they chose for their children—Emma Josepha, Golde Sadie, and Lucas Mordechai—reflect the couple’s personal tastes but also pay homage to two fathers, a great-grandmother, and a grandfather. The family found a way to honor both of their families, two religions and cultures—Jewish and Christian—along with relatives from both sides. (Of course, it helped that both of their fathers were named Joseph!)
The name game can be a complicated dance for interfaith couples, a mix of family commitments and modern sensibilities that need to be balanced and arranged in a way that makes sense for them. While trying to honor the name of a relative may sometimes be a potentially divisive issue (“Whose mother do we honor? Whose father comes first?”), many families often see the search for a name as a deeply symbolic act. The process may be challenging, but ultimately, the outcome can be meaningful and harmonious.