On naming our son
December 07, 2009
This past Saturday was Drew's eighth day outside the womb, which meant it was time for us to officially welcome him into the world. We held a two-part ceremony: a bris (brit milah) which was attended by nuclear family, and a babynaming/welcoming ceremony which was attended by members of our extended community of family and friends.
I started working on the naming ceremony midway through my second trimester. I've done a number of babynamings over the years (my first was for my nephew Max, who will be nine in about a month), so my first step was to reread the ceremonies I'd written for other folks and to remind myself what I'd done before which I might want to repurpose. I spent a while researching, too -- reading up on brit milah and on the newer and more creative (and more gender-neutral) tradition of baby-namings in Judaism, and thinking about what we might want to include in ours. I'll include the ceremony in pdf form at the end of this post, for those who want to read the whole thing, but wanted to highlight here two pieces of the ceremony which make me particularly happy.
A traditional bris often begins with birkat ha-gomel, a blessing thanking God for bringing one through a potentially dangerous / traumatic experience -- in this case, birth. Instead of reciting the traditional text, I wrote my own blessing for having survived childbirth, which I recited at the opening of our ceremony. I was working on that when I attended the Retreat for Emerging Jewish and Muslim Religious Leaders, which may be why the final version of the prayer uses both the Hebrew and the Arabic terms which name God as "the merciful / compassionate" -- a word-root which denotes the womb in both sacred tongues:
Holy One of Blessing, thank you
for bringing me through pregnancy
through labor and delivery
safely and (w)hol(l)y.
Thank you for sustaining my body,
my emotions, mind, and spirit.
ar-rahman, ar-rahim الرحمن الرحيم
You nurture all creation
in Your compassionate womb.
Praised are You, my God,
creator of embodied miracles!
We also drew on Ghanaian cultures in crafting the ceremony. Ethan's time in Ghana was incredibly formative for him, and we have deep ties there. (There's a reason his blog is named "...My Heart's in Accra.") So in addition to giving Drew two English names and a Hebrew name, we also gave him a Ghanaian name (following Akan/Twi custom) -- his Ghanaian name is Kwame, since he is Saturday-born. And in a display of tribal ecumenism, in addition to bestowing the Akan name, Ethan offered a beautiful Dagara blessing which came to us from our dear friend Bernard Woma:
Using a calabash of akpeteshie and another of water, place a drop of water on Drew's forehead.
"Drew, you are welcome to this world. Your name is Andrew Wynn Yitzchak Kwame Zuckerman, and may your many names make you welcome wherever you roam in the world."
with a second drop
"Drew, this water is for all the blessings you'll need on this earth - blessings of peace, prosperity and fertility."
use a drop of akpeteshie
"Drew, this is what the world has to offer you. If this taste sweet for you, take it in moderation. If this taste bitter, advise yourself."
Pour libation and declare that all of us gathered here are witnesses to this ceremony and we ask their blessing and wisdom to help Drew become an honorable member of this world.
I think it's safe to say that the ceremony is uniquely our own! Anyway, if you're interested, here it is; I've also added it to the ceremony archive at VelveteenRabbi.com: