How we picked our children’s names

With each pregnancy, we wanted to be surprised by the babies’ sexes. My husband and I love the element of surprise.  But this meant picking lots of names (especially not knowing the sexes of the twins).  Thankfully, neither one of us was hung up on a single name, but we had guidelines and subsequently spent a lot of time on Baby Name Wizard to find contenders.

Our Baby Naming Criteria
  1. After a dead relative because in the Jewish tradition, you name your children after deceased loved ones.  I personally love knowing who I am named after (I am Michelle Rachel named after great-uncle Michael and great-grandmother Rachel).  I want my kids names to be deeply meaningful, so I wanted to go with the full name if possible, not just the first letter or Hebrew name.
  2. Old school biblical – I am not interested in being trendy, my husband says I love anything old, so our girls sound like they could be your grandmas.  We were going with the Old Testament (because we’re Jewish) and if the name easily translated into Hebrew, even better!
  3. Unique, could not be in the top 100 names according to the Social Security website for name popularity
    1. My name was really popular in the 1980’s so I was one of many Michelles in school. I wanted my girls to be known by their first name only, not like how I was always Michelle K.
  4. Not too unique and biblical people would be completely unfamiliar with their names (this is like La—a is pronounced Ladasha – get it? La-DASH-a. Although, should it really be pronounced La-hyphen-a?)
  5. Spelling should match pronunciation
    1. My husband was adamant about this, but I’m not sure this worked out for Ilana who gets her name mispronounced quite often


Baby Esther and big kid Esther

For our first baby, I really wanted to honor family members who exemplified characteristics and virtues I hoped my daughter would emulate. Esther Shayna (Hebrew name Eliza Sharon) was named after her great-great uncle Eliezar who died at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust.  He was a child and his life was cut short because of hatred.  One day I will explain to my daughter why it’s important to remember the sacrifices our family members have made in order for us to be here today.  Shayna is after a cousin Sharon who I did not have the great pleasure of meeting, but I have heard many stories about.  She experienced hardship and despite the adversity facing her, she always had an incredible attitude and sense of humor.

I looked up the meaning of Esther; her name means star.  This makes me laugh because this couldn’t be more spot on for my over-the-top little lady.  This jives with her love of space.  She’s a big NASA fan and loves talking about planets.  I once tried to use two strawberries to demonstrate how the earth orbits the sun, (but I’m not sure I did a great job with it).  She knows the sun is the biggest star, and life wouldn’t exist without it. Star also compliments the fact girlfriend loves attention (but which toddler doesn’t?).

People named Esther tend to be creative and excellent at expressing themselves (I often hear her telling me “You’re making me saaaaad!” when I don’t give in to what she wants).  “Esthers” are drawn to the arts, and often enjoy life immensely (I don’t know any other 4 year old who loves life the way Esther does!). They are often the center of attention (well, she wants to be), and enjoy careers putting them in the limelight (I believe it)!


Baby Miriam and big kid Miriam

Miriam Devorah is named after two of her great-grandmothers. Again, Miriam is my grandmother Miriam who survived the Holocaust (notice a theme here?).

I have talked about being challenged by Miriam (I blogged about how I handle a strong-willed 2 year old)!  She has A LOT of spirit and spunk.  I personally love it because I see SO much of myself in her.  I have called her Michelle 2.0 – new and improved in manipulative ways.  She’s amazing, dynamic and totally knows how to work the system.  She keeps me on my toes!  I have a lot of admiration and respect for this kiddo.

I looked up the meaning of Miriam; her name means rebellious.  Shut the front door!  I don’t think we noticed this when we were conducting our name search while I was hugely pregnant with the twins.  In Israel, her name also means strong willed wished for.  Strong willed doesn’t even begin to touch on how determined and resolute this little girl can be.  I love it.


Baby Ilana and big kid Ilana

Ilana Brielle is named after a great-grandfather and great-grandmother. Isaac was the only Holocaust survivor in his family of six.  His brother was Eliezar (who Esther is named after).  Isaac was one of the kindest men I have ever known.  How to pronounce Ilana’s name: ih-LAH-na with a short/soft i.  I like the Israeli version ee-LAH-na because my grandfather Isaac was always called ee-SACK.  My husband goes with the American version and I say the Israeli for Ilana.  Both are correct in my mind but people still come up with some very different sounding versions of her name!

The name Ilana is often given to girls born around the Jewish holiday of Tu BiShvat. It’s like a birthday for the trees/world.  Tu BiShvat is celebrated as an ecological awareness day.  Like a tree, Ilana is a little more quiet (compared to her sisters) and her presence isn’t overly obtrusive.  Being associated with trees and nature really jives with Ilana because out of my three girls, she’s the only daughter interested in being outdoors as much as possible.  She’s a girl after my own heart – she wants to take longer walks, ride bikes longer… dive into the ocean without a care for her own safety.  She’s a nature-lover and I plan to capitalize on it because I love being outdoors too.  My “star” Esther wants nothing to do with bugs and dirt, but I envision going on hiking/camping trips with Ilana in the years to come while my hubby hangs back with her sisters to watch movies and enjoy take out dinner.

Other names we had in the running

If Esther was a boy, she would be Elliot Benyamin (yes, with a Y because it’s how Benjamin is pronounced in Hebrew).

For the twins, we had many different combinations of names honoring lots of different family members. We had to be mindful of not double-dipping and naming both babies after the same family member.  We had to think of 4 names for 3 different combos, so we came to the hospital with a little slip of paper with all the name combinations written down.  We would follow our naming guide depending on who came out.  We always knew the first girl to come out would be named Miriam.  Honestly, we thought Baby B (Ilana) was going to be a boy, so it took me a moment to remember the girl-girl combo of names we picked (also, her delivery was breech, so I was processing what just happened instead of thinking about her name)!  I don’t remember all the different combinations but Jeremiah, Zachary, Marcus, Grant and Benyamin were in the mix.  I put the little note with all the name combinations in a keepsake box in case the girls ask about what they would be named if they were boys.

Names are funny in the way they can shape your life (check out Freakonomics).  On a lark I thought it would be fun to look up the meaning of my girls’ names.  I had no idea the irony I would find when presented with how the meanings of their names align with their personalities (thus far)!  Shakespeare said it best, “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

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