Seth Cohen, an alumnus of the Wexner Heritage Program from Atlanta, is a partner in the law firm of Kilpatrick Stockton LLP. He is involved in a variety of Jewish initiatives, most importantly, his own family. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and his blog on Jewish community issues can be found at www.boundlessdramaofcreation.com.
What is in a name? That is the question my wife Marci and I recently were asking ourselves as we awaited the birth of our third child. Having already named our two daughters, we had previously navigated the discussions that come with naming a child after beloved family members, so the emotional process of choosing a name was not new to us. However, in this case the process of personal reflection that comes with selecting a name differed from what we had previously experienced with our daughters.
Notwithstanding the differences among all of us, as children of parents and parents of children each of us has one fundamental trait in common; each of us has a name. And with that name, we travel through life, an emanation of the hopes and dreams of our parents, a reflection of pride and admiration of our children, and a summation of the power of our Creator. To those around us, we bring light in to the tapestry of their lives, like the way a star twinkles in the sky. Indeed, in many ways each of us is a star – emanating light and warmth to one another, each one deserving of a name that reflects this brightening significance in the lives of others. In fact, at this time of the Jewish calendar we read in the haftorah for Tisha B’Av:
Lift high your eyes and see: Who has created these [the stars]? He who sends out their host by count, Who calls them each by name: Because of His great might and vast power, Not one fails to appear. (Isaiah 40:26).
In naming a child we are, at the core, partnering with God in the act of creation. While we thank God for the honor and blessing that comes with conceiving and bearing a child;, we then, as individuals, take the responsibility of naming that creation. Just as Adam did in Bereshit when God paraded before Adam each of the beasts of Eden and Adam named each based upon their essence, as parents we too look upon our child and, as partners with God, try to name our child with a mind towards his or her essence. It is a tremendous responsibility, for the name we choose will be a name that even God uses in calling the individual forth for their role on the heavenly stage.
So now back to Marci and my child and the process and emotions we experienced. The process was different because, for the first time, we did not know the sex of our child prior to birth. But it was the personal reflection that was different in a much deeper way.
After the death of our close friend Jon Barkan z”l (Wexner Heritage member, Atlanta ’07) in December, Marci and I both knew we wanted to name our child after Jon. He had been a star in our lives, and along with his wife Elizabeth and their three children, we had shared important parts of the life journeys of our two young families. But different from naming a child after a grandparent, naming a child after a friend, a friend that had passed on so young and so suddenly, touched upon different emotions and thoughts. With grandparents we ponder longevity of warmth and wisdom, with the death of young friends we ponder mortality and missed chances. With the names of grandparents we think of those individuals we have been blessed with without our choosing. With friends we think of those whom we choose to bless ourselves.
At his Brit Milah, we named our son Jordan Issac (Yarden Itzhak) in honor of our friend Jon. We chose Yarden in recognition that the things in life we are blessed with (and in particular, our newest child) descend from Heaven, even when we are confused why some of us are recalled to the heavens far before our time. And as our friend Rabbi Josh Heller so wisely pointed out to us, while we chose to name Jordan with a name that honors and reminds us of that star that was Jon Barkan, we should also pray that Jordan will grow to be an ish tanim, a complete person – a star – in his own right, thereby creating his own name for himself among his people.
So, in the end, what is in a name? In a name we give an honor, a wish and a prayer. It is the naming of a star in the lives of family, community and the Jewish people. In a name is an act of creation. And therefore, in a name, is everything.