So much happens in Lech Lecha, this week's parsha: God tells Abram to take his family to the land of Canaan; when famine strikes, the family departs Canaan for Egypt; Pharoah takes an interest in Sarai, and Abram has to pretend they're brother and sister to protect them both; Sarai's handmaid Hagar bears Abram a son, Ishmael; God makes a covenant with Abram and all of Abram's descendants, and instructs Abram to circumcise himself and all other males in his family. Finally, God changes Abram's name to Abraham (father of multitudes) and Sarai's name to Sarah (princess). He also promises both that they will have a son in their old age, who will be named Isacc, which means laughter, because, really, they're so old at this point. The whole idea is kind of funny.
In many ways, this parsha is the story of how the world's first two Jews got their names. If this were a Marvel movie, this would be Abraham and Sarah's origin story.
Our names say a lot about who we are, our families, and where we're from, yet our names are not chosen by us. They were chosen for us by our parents. Parents choose their children's names for all sorts of reasons. They might prefer traditional or biblical names, or names that honor a relative. We named our son Ari, which means lion in Hebrew, to honor my husband's grandfather, whose name was Leo. Parents might just like the way a name sounds, or what it means in another language. Morah Ilanith, who is from Morocco, gave her daughter a Russian name (Anouchka) for that very reason. Parents might eventually settle on a name because of its originality. That's what drew my parents to the name Jennifer. Little did they know that the rest of America discovered Jennifer at the same time they did. It went on to become the most popular girl's name throughout the 70s and early 80s. I hated my name, because it was so common, until I learned as an adult that Jennifer is derived from Guinevere. As in Queen Guinevere. From the Arthurian legends. It means "fair one." That I can live with.
Do your children know why you chose their name for them? If not, tonight might be a good time to tell them the story.