The Selection of Jewish Children’s Names- Some Emendations

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1. The Portuguese Jewish naming custom

In my paper 'New Light on the Selection of Jewish Children's Names'1 I set out the Portuguese Jewish naming custom. As far as I know this is correctly stated in respect of the first and second child of each sex; in this case, the information culled from seventeenth and eighteenth century genealogies was confirmed by contemporary personal testimony. How? ever, I went astray in respect of the third and fourth children, where I relied on genealogies alone, without the confirmation of personal recollection. The examples I gave all relate to the children of younger sons, and further examination of the evidence shows that in an eldest son's family the practice was different. The third son of an eldest son was not normally given his great-grandfather's name. For exam? ple, the children of Raphael de Abraham Mendes da Costa (1742-1788),2 of Amsterdam, were named as follows:


In this family the first two children of each sex are named after their grandparents but the girls are named in reverse order, the name of the maternal grandmother, Sarah Abarbanel de Souza, being put ahead of that of the paternal grandmother, Judica Franco Mendes, who had died in 1762. The reason seems to have been a desire to give the living grandmother the honour of standing as godmother at the

1 Trans.JHSE, XXIII, p. 65.

eldest granddaughter's naming ceremony.3 When Abraham and Sarah died in infancy, their names were reissued to a young brother and sister, the name 'Haim' being added to

2 Based on a MS. genealogy of the Mendes da Costa family by Mr. Armand Mendes da Costa, of New Zealand.

3 For the very charming Sephardi ceremony for naming a daughter see Book of Prayer of the Spanish & Portuguese Jews' Congregation, London (Oxford, 1958), p. 180.

'Abraham' as a safeguard. Sarah, being a name of good omen, was left alone. The name of the third son, Aron, presumably came from the family of one of the grandmothers, probably the paternal one, and Jacob is the name of his mother's third brother, as well as of her uncle. For her eldest brother, Abraham's name had been used already and her second brother, Daniel, was dead. From this and other examples it is clear that the custom was far less rigid than I represented it to be. Whereas it was normal for younger children to be named after their uncles and aunts, usually in order of seniority, or even, as in the case of Abigail Ricardo,4 after a great-grandmother, the sequence was sometimes varied. However, children were nearly always named after their relations, the third and fourth children, whom I assumed to be named after their great-grandparents, being probably in fact named after their eldest uncles and aunts. I feel that I ought now to state the Portuguese Jewish custom again, so as to correct my mistake. This is as follows:

(1) Children are named after their forebears.

(2) The first child of each

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