What’s In a Name

It is very fitting that this Shabbat Daphne is being given her Hebrew name Aviva for two reasons. First, there are two babies who are named in this week’s Torah portion: Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh. Both names have to do with Joseph’s state of life. Manasseh means to forget, and is so named כי נשני אלקים את כל עמלי ואת כל-בית אבי, for God has made me forget my hardship and my father’s home. At first glance it seems like a horrible name to give a child-we name our children after people we want to remember, not events that we want to forget. However, Joseph is pointing out how much his life has changed and that he is grateful for those changes. He is no longer the boy hated by his brothers, who was thrown into a pit and later into jail, but rather he is second-in-command in all of Egypt! Joseph recognizes the goodness of his life now, and he demonstrates his appreciation through Manasseh’s name.

Joseph next names his son Ephraim כי הפרני אלקים בארץ עניי, for God has made me fertile in the land of my affliction. This is an even more bizarre etymology for a name. Joseph has it better than anyone else except Pharaoh, so why would he refer to Egypt as “the land of his affliction?” Is he referring to the fact that he was imprisoned for 13 years in Egypt, is he foreshadowing his people’s captivity in Egypt, or is something else going on?

I would argue that while Joseph has an exalted position and a great standard of living, especially considering the famine all around him, he recognizes that “there is no place like home.” He asks for his brother Benjamin, who he has not met, to come down to Egypt. He misses his father Jacob, as evidenced by the fact that he says העוד אבי חי, “is my father still alive” when he reveals himself to his brothers. Joseph cannot escape his past-his upbringing with 12 brothers and a sister in Canaan. He received an Egyptian name צפנת פענח, Tzapnath Pa’aneach meaning “God speaks-he lives.” He also marries and Egyptian, Asenath the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On. However, Joseph will always be bound to the Hebrew people, to his family and their way of life.

This message comes to light as we celebrate Daphne’s Hebrew name, Aviva, which means spring. As mentioned by her parents, Jennifer and Daniel, Aviva is named after a number of grandmothers and great-grandmothers named Anna and Amelia. Our tradition in Ashkenazi Judaism is to name a child after relatives who have passed on, so that their attributes, their traditions and the values that they taught us continue on directly into the newborn. It also means that each child has a responsibility and the opportunity to live in accordance with to the example of those who came before.

While we generally no longer name people after events that occur in our lives, the example of Ephraim and Manasseh shed light on the name we gave Daphne today. The name Aviva binds Daphne to those who came before her, linking her to her heritage and to those who worked hard to enable her to be before us this very day. We recognize that though Daphne will grow up to be her own, independent person, she will forever be linked to the chain of tradition comprised by her parents, Jen and Daniel and her grandparents, Dave, Christine, Caren and Kenneth. In naming Daphne today, we know that she will continue to be raised with love, tenderness and caring and that she will live in accordance with the values that her family bestows upon her today. Mazal Tov to the entire family on reaching this joyous occasion!

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