The biblical verse uses the pronoun “he,” but never mind. In the Jewish tradition, especially Ashkenazi or Eastern European Jewish culture, families name babies after the dead. It is not only a way of honoring the person and hoping that the child will emulate the qualities of his or her namesake, but also as I understand it, the name carries that person’s memory forward. It is a way to assure their immortality. My granddaughter, Ella Michelle, bears the name of my aunt Marilyn and shares her Hebrew name. (Ella is a special name of her father, maybe because Ella Fitzgerald is a favorite singer— although it has no religious significance.) In temple, at Ella’s baby naming ceremony I, named Chasha for my paternal grandmother, stood with my daughter, named Brina for her maternal grandmother, as well as my mother. I felt the presence of generations of Jewish women and rejoiced in knowing that their memories would carry forward.
My granddaughter, Ayla, was not named in a temple ceremony. The members of her family were neither practicing Jews nor Christians, although they occasionally celebrated holidays of both religions. I convinced a family friend who belonged to a rather unorthodox Jewish congregation to name her in his temple for two of the women I loved best in this world. Both died relatively young, and both were exemplars of strong, loving, and courageous women. Faye was a psychologist, feminist activist, mentor, and friend. Sister Elizabeth was a progressive Dominican nun. For Ayla to bear their names was not so much for them to be remembered—many would remember them—but for her to be “like her name, so is she,” She carries their English names, Faye and Eliza, a gift to inspire her life.