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Nix the Nickname

Faigy Peritzman

A name is so much more than a name

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

“A nd the sons of Reuven were Chanoch and Pallu and Chetzron and Charmi.” (Bereishis 46:9)


The name Chanoch is found three times in Bereishis: The son of Kayin (4:17), the son of Yered (5:18), and here, the son of Reuven. The root of this name comes from the concept of chinuch, training. As it says in Mishlei (22:6): “Chanoch l’naar — train your child according to his way…”

The recurrence of this name in Bereishis demonstrates the importance of the tradition of handing down concepts through family names. Just as the names were preserved in our tradition, so too halachos and minhagim were preserved. (Rav Avigdor Miller, The Beginning)

I start debating my child’s name the minute I find out I’m expecting. After all, I’m going to need several months to convince my husband of my decision. Seriously, though, it’s a joint effort, a responsibility, taking into account both sides of the family and the tzaddikim and tzidkaniyos we dream our children will emulate. 

Once decided, though, there’s no wavering or waffling. I enter the hall hosting my kiddush or bris with a clear vision of Ploni ben Faigy becoming the next gadol whose name will be on the lips of all Klal Yisrael.

We also see this concept with Zevulun’s son’s name, Yachliel, which means “Hashem is my hope.” Other names also express similar sentiments of loyalty and trust in Hashem, although in our days their meaning may not be so readily discerned.

The persistence of family traditions is an important factor in our history. Thus, we have historical traditions and ancient attitudes that date back to the days before Matan Torah and that continue to flourish in Klal Yisrael today.

You’d think, then, that I’d be the type who’d call each child by all his names, at all times (not just when I’m angry at him). I ought to be the kind of mother who teaches her child to write his entire name when he’s still in preschool, and to go to bat against any less-knowledgeable person who thinks a proud name like Binyamin can be reduced to a pitiful Bibi.

But the problem is, I myself am notorious for dubbing my children with absurd nicknames, often without any connection to their actual beautiful names.

Our family boasts of LooLoo and Tweety, Boon-Boon and Mushky (who happens to be a boy). I’d go on, but in the interest of protecting the innocent, suffice it to say that after all that deliberation, I rarely call my children by their given names.

I struggle with this duplicity. On one hand, I am fiercely proud of my Avraham, named after my great-great-grandfather as well as Avraham Avinu. What could be grander? Then why am I calling him Mushky? There’s a long story behind each nickname — they’re not entirely random — but their usage is taking a lesson from my lineage and reducing it to a senseless sobriquet.

These pious names were not mere repetitions of names of previous family members (as the practice later became), but were original expressions of sincere devotion and prayer to Hashem. Certainly too, these great personalities always kept in mind the origin of these names when using them. When Yaakov called his grandson Yachliel by name, he was expressing the sentiments and ideas that the name represented.

I know why I fell into this pattern. There are so many Avrahams out there, so many Yitzchaks and Yaakovs. But in my little part of the world, there’s only one Tweety. One Boon-boon. And that nickname makes this little neshamah’le uniquely mine in my heart.

Yet knowing this doesn’t excuse my behavior. I try to change. I make kabbalos, reminders, drum up ditties that rhyme their names in song. The older my children get, the harder I try, because I don’t want them losing sight of the goals we were creating when giving them such lofty names.

So although I’m losing the uniqueness of that cute little nickname I dreamed up one night during a late feeding, I know that I’ve taught them to take pride in their own identity, regardless of the ten other Avrahams in their class.

A name is more than the sum of its letters. It’s dreams of the future and connections to the past. And with that thought, I whisper good night to each child with his full name as I tuck him in with love. I know they get the message. After all, I’m the only Mommy in their world.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 621)

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