We stood in a hall filled with most of our closest family and friends. Everyone was so incredibly excited to meet her. Our very little daughter was to be welcomed into the tribe at a Bris Bas ceremony officiated by my cousin, the Rabbi. We had agonised over the details. Which prayers to include? Should we include prayers at all? Where should we have it? Who should cater? All the traditional questions of a Jewish family gathering.

One thing that was not up for question or debate, was her name. Some choose the name(s) for their children based on how it sounds, based on what it means and sometimes, based on who it reminds them of. For teachers, that last point can sometimes make choosing a name rather challenging.

The meaning of names in Jewish tradition is significant. Any student of Torah can tell you of the significant moment when Avram became Avraham (Bereshit 17:5). The extra ‘hey’ signifies the many nations that would descend from him.

I also recall while reading the All of a Kind Family books by Sydney Taylor, the storyline of the need to add a new name to the name of a very sick child. By adding this name the characters hoped to give life to the unwell boy.

There are also biblical cases of the name of a character giving insight into who they truly are or what role they will turn out to play. This can be seen clearly in all of Megilat Rut.

Ashkenazic Jewish tradition dictates that a baby should be named for a family member who has departed in world. Sephardic Jews do the opposite and consider it a great honour to name a child for a living family member. As gefilte fish, latke and cholent loving Ashkenazic Jews, there was no question. The honour of ensuring the continuity of the memory of a family member was of fundamental importance.

Last year, I watched the Pixar movie, Coco. It presented the idea that the souls of those we love live on as long as stories and memories of their lives are passed on. This, to me, is a similar idea to the passing on of a name in our tradition.

There was one name that I had known for most of my life that was given to my first born daughter. Though it breaks my heart every day to have given her this name, I understand that I have also given my daughter a precious gift. She is now tied, for all time, to a relative she never met, but would have loved her dearly. A family member who achieved much and loved greatly. A family member, taken from those she loved and who loved her, far too soon. I have given them a special connection, a bond.

But I suppose naming her was the easy part. Now, the hard part. I must begin the telling my daughter of the stories of her namesake. Stories that I have not let myself tell out loud for years. Because they now belong to her name and to her. While it will be painful, I trust in the wisdom of this traditional practise. So I will tell these stories and share this bond with my daughter and watch her become connected to her past so that she can move forward with an understanding of who her family was, is and can be.

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Feygi Phillips
Feygi Phillips grew up in a Yiddish speaking household in Melbourne. She graduated from Monash University with a Bachelor of Arts/Education in 2008 and from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America with a Masters of Modern Jewish Studies in 2011. She has dedicated her life to Jewish education and lives in Melbourne with her husband, Zac.

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