A few summers ago, while strolling around the neighborhood with our daughter, Mushkie, and a couple granddaughters, Leah’s daughter Mushka, and Sara’s daughter Moussia, we bumped into an old non-Jewish friend. As I introduced everyone, I joked about the lack of originality in our choice of names.
“It’s the Rebbe’s wife’s name,” I continued, my tone turning serious. Thousands upon thousands of Chaya Mushkas have been named after a woman who had no biological children, a phenomenon that gives me much to ponder about the power of a name to immortalize a person.
For me, switching from “Linda” to “Lieba” was easy. First, they sound similar. Second, I preferred a Yiddish name that meant “love” rather than a Spanish name that meant “pretty” and was also, invariably, the most popular girl’s name in the room. Then again, it doesn’t matter what they did or why they did it; my parents’ “choice” was ruach hakodesh, divine inspiration, a literal encounter with G-d.
Our daughter Elkie and I recently spent time together in North Hollywood, California, after the birth of her son. In the days before his bris, she often turned to me and said, “I don’t know what to name this child.” Each time she did, I assured her she would have his name by the time of the bris, even if only seconds before. It’s good news all around that the men in our family who have passed away have all been named for. Our son-in-law Nachman wanted to name the baby after his mentor, the Rebbe’s head emissary in Chabad of the Valley, Rabbi Yehoshua Binyomin “Josh” Gordon, who passed away in February. Elkie was a little reluctant to name the baby after someone she wasn’t related to, especially after another “Valley boy” had just been given that name a day earlier. For most of the days preceding the bris, we vacillated between Sholom Dov Ber (after the fifth Chabad Rebbe) and Avraham (after my father). Elkie didn’t love the sound of Avraham Abend, so I assured her she didn’t need to use the name “for me.”
As Wednesday evening’s 6:30 bris time drew closer, the divine inspiration that was elusive all week became clear. If the baby wasn’t going to be named for a family member, Nachman wanted to name him Yehoshua Benyomin. By this time, Elkie was grateful to have settled on any name, and the fact that it was so meaningful to Nachman assured her that they had received their ruach hakodesh.
We all get the name G-d wants for us. To see the power it can have, watch Nachman’s father’s emotions at the moment Yehoshua Benyomin got his: