Main piece: We have the tradition of naming our children after loved ones who have died. If however, the person who is deceased died at a young age, we give the baby a second name of an old person. We want the baby to have better luck and live longer; live a long life.
Background: My informant is a seventy-nine year old Ashkenazi Jewish woman living in Baltimore, Maryland. She is also my grandmother. She describes herself as a follower of “bubbe-meise” (Yiddish), translated to “grandmother’s fable”, or a more serious version of old wive’s tales that are often accompanied by superstitions.
Context: My informant and I were discussing Jewish cultural traditions, when she asked me if I could remember where I got my name. I told her that it was after my great-aunt (her sister-in-law), who died fairly young (she was fifty-nine) of breast cancer. My informant then asked me if I remembered where I got my middle name. I told her it was after her (the informant’s) grandmother, who lived well into her nineties (she was around ninety-seven when she passed). My informant then explained this cultural practice to me. My informant’s eldest son’s name followed this tradition as well.
Analysis: It is a custom of Ashkenazi culture to name children after deceased loved ones, as both a way of honoring them and carrying their memories on (this is not true for all Jewish people; Sephardic Jews name their children after living relatives, while Ashkenazi Jews do not). However, with loved ones who unfortunately did not live long or happy lives there is a fear that the children will also be cursed with a similar fate. However, by adding on a second name of someone who did have, as my informant puts it, “better luck”, the parents can honor their loved one while cancelling out any bad luck or misfortune that may accompany the name. Additionally, the source of the name is usually someone the parents want their child to emulate, or whose virtues the deceased namesake could hopefully pass on. There is also a belief that the soul of the deceased loved one lives on in the child who carries their name. The fear then comes from the idea that the child will not only inherit the virtues of their namesake, but the misfortunes as well. By tagging on a second name of someone who had a happier or longer life, the parents then believe that the souls of the two namesakes will both bequeath their virtues, and not their misfortunes.