Guest Post: Why I Chose a Traditional Yiddish Name for My Daughter

 

I’m not gonna lie. I sort of love the reactions — the looks people give me when they hear her name. There’s an awkward beat, a moment where they scramble for the appropriate reaction; then, the exclamation: “That’s beautiful.”

Is it?

Or maybe they’ll offer: “I’ve never heard that one before.” We get that one a lot.

(There was also the one Uber driver who said something about “those wacky names” my generation is coming up with these days. I’ll admit I took somewhat less delight in that reaction.)

Even for people “in the know,” there’s a slight confusion, a look askance. With no obvious external markers as to our level of religious observance, the decision to name our daughter not just a Jewish name, but a Yiddish name typically reserved for the Hassidic community is…curious, at best.

I love these moments, but not because I love my daughter’s name — in fact, I’m not even sure I do. It’s more because I love explaining to people that, yes, her name is Yiddish. That it means “loved one” in a language close to extinction. And, perhaps more importantly, that it was the Hebrew name of my beloved grandmother Lorraine.

Lorraine in 1979.

Lorraine in 1979.

Lorraine was a force of life. She was hilarious, fierce, whip-smart, and beautiful. She forced us to have opinions, to be curious, to speak up. “Meek” wasn’t an option. And she was madly in love with my grandfather, her husband of 60 years. After she fought off a ferocious cancer, the two of them died just nine weeks apart.

For a long time, I couldn’t bear the thought of raising a daughter without her guidance. When, finally, it did come time to think of the next generation and name my daughter, I knew I had to find a way to hold onto Lorraine — to pass along her joie de vivre, her unbelievable strength, and her dedication to Jewish tradition. I was desperate to hold on to her and to the memory of everything she was. Of everything she gave to the world.

Lorraine, Lorraine. I wrote down every “L” name I could imagine, thinking of how best to honor her memory. But nothing seemed right. How would I be able to preserve her life and spirit? How would I pin down, in just a handful of letters, the woman whose matzah balls were a thing of legend — and who managed to host seders for upwards of 35 people every year, with long, impeccably-decorated tables set down her hallways? How would I possibly capture her elegance, her gutsiness, her contagious love of travel and of family?

Then came “Liba.” Whether it was objectively beautiful or not was besides the point. If it would elicit less-than-kind comments from Uber drivers, so be it. Here was a name that could encapsulate the enormity of all that Lorraine was — one that would really connect my daughter to her family and her religion. One that would give her a sense of true cultural attachment in this post-identity, post-everything world.

Because when you’re Jewish, there is, ineffably, a responsibility to tradition and to posterity. To Lorraine.

Which is why I never actually chose to name my daughter a Yiddish name. There was, of course, never a choice at all.

The only option was Liba.