Naming a Daughter

A personal perspective on choosing a name.

Reprinted with permission from


,The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

Checking the clock to be sure that Torah reading had already taken place that Thursday morning (which would mean that while I was in the hospital, just hours after my daughter’s birth, my husband had been called to the Torah to name our first child) I called my mother to tell her my first baby’s name.

Sharing Her Name With Family

“We’ve called her Dina,” I said, excited. “Lovely,’’ said my mother, but nothing else. “Dina, her name is Dina,” I tried again. “Yes, I heard you, it’s a lovely name,’’ my mother replied. “Mom’’, I said, this time somewhat exasperated, “Her name is Dina, for your mother.’’ “Oh,’’ my mother said, “that’s very nice, but my mother’s name was Henia Dina.’’ I knew that. In fact I had wanted to call our daughter Henia Dina, but my husband didn’t like the Henia part–too old-fashioned sounding, he said. So, for Dina’s second name, we settled on Hadara, the feminization of the Hebrew word for etrog, to reflect her Sukkot birthday. When we came up with the compromise, with me lying on the couch wondering exactly how late a first baby could come, I was delighted that I’d be able to please both my husband and my mother.

Identity and Naming

And, I hope I did. My mother didn’t mention the truncated name again and lovingly called her Dina for the almost five years they adored each other. Naming a child is no easy feat. In a single name that can be no longer than the blocks offered on identification forms, parents need to pay homage to ancestors, fashion an identify for a child younger than the milk in their fridge, determine whether the name should declare their commitment to Zionism, or to American pop culture, and try hard to come up with something that won’t get the attention of the schoolyard bullies.

Actually, Dina was not my first choice. My grandmother died forty years ago, and at least two other girls were named for her. I did want our branch of the family to claim a Dina too, but I very much wanted to name a daughter Rachel, for my Aunt Rochelle who died in her 90’s. Not just because no child had been named for her and not just because she had had no grandchildren of her own, but because she, though a decade gone before I became engaged, had a role to play in my deciding to marry my husband.

Naming After A Tragic Life

One day over tea in her London apartment, she turned to me and announced she had some marital advice. “Don’t marry,’’ she said, “unless you can have endless conversation.” “Was that your life with Uncle Ferdie?” I asked. “Not one bit,’’ she smiled–bequeathing me advice hard won. So, more than ten years later, having had my heart broken by a man I never should have spent time with in the first place, I had no interest in dating, much less marrying when I moved to Washington, D.C. But my now husband coaxed me on my second Shabbat to join him after havdala for a drink at a pretty hotel near my apartment.
We talked all night, never looking up until the exhausted hotel staff, having swept and vacuumed, begged us to leave so that they could go home, too. Just a few weeks later, when he asked me to marry him, having passed the Aunt Rochelle test was my reason number one for saying yes. But her advice notwithstanding, Rochelle’s life was a sad one, her two sons died very young and had no children of their own.

I called my mother in tears one night in about my eighth month of pregnancy because Neil was adamant that his child would not be named for someone whose life had been so tragic. I expected a comrade, but my mother sided with my husband, saying that it was reasonable for him to look ahead and hope for a much happier life for his child.

A Name With Two Meanings

Henia Dina had given birth to nine children, raised eight of them, and saw each begin homes of Torah and good deeds. When we named our daughter Dina, we thought only of the grandmother who died when I was ten, and in whose apartment I would happily eat potato kugel on days I got home from school while my mother was out. But a few days after our baby was born, my father told me that he had told his relatives that she was named Dina for two ancestors–his mother-in-law, but also his grandmother, Dina Eisenmann, who died in Bergen Belsen, one of only very few of our family to perish in the Holocaust.

When it came up, we largely only spoke about the one side of her name–the connection to my grandmother Henia Dina; but Dina is proud of her two sided heritage–of being named for matriarchs on both sides of my family. Dina paid homage to the other part of her name a few weeks before her bat mitzvah.

Rooted in Justice

On a trip to Israel, staff at Yad Vashem took her to the computer room to look up testimony related to Dina Eisenmann’s death at Bergen Belsen and we laid flowers and lit a yahrtzeit candle in the Garden of the Communities–a tie that has now focused our Dina on current genocides, including Darfur. Now at age 15 when asked about her name, Dina will say she does not relate to the tragic figure of Dina in the book of Bereishit, daughter of Jacob and Leah, who is most closely associated with a rape.

My Dina, currently the very modest, lone girl among 13 boys on her high school mock trial team, and in the running to head the social action committee at her day school next year, identifies herself with the root word of her name, din, for law or justice, and indeed talks of becoming a lawyer. “I think about it sometimes,’’ she says, “and feel that my name is pulling me to help seek justice in the world.’’

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