Friday, July 21, 2006

Baby Naming: Rebecca Ann

Last Friday, the congregation had a baby naming. Here is what I presented about the name Rebecca Ann. It does not really fit anywhere on the congregational website, so I'll share it here in my blog.

Baby Naming for Rebecca Ann

1. About Jewish Names

According to Jewish tradition, and fitting with scriptural accounts, God chooses a baby's name before it is born and then inspires the parents to pick that name for the baby. The name shows the parents' hopes for their child as well as something God puts into the personality of this new person.

Judaism is opposed to all kinds of divination. We do not consider a new baby's name in order to try to predict the baby's future. Instead, we are tonight participating in an act of self-fulfilling prophecy.

In choosing the name "Rebecca Ann", Jeremy and Clara are sharing some of their hopes for this child, and their idea for what God has put into her personality. They, as her parents, will guide how she grows up. Tonight we as a community are considering what Jeremy and Clara are wishing for their new baby, and what they believe God has told them. We then agree to help them so that Rebecca Ann matures into a person with these virtues.

2. The Choice of Languages

Rebecca is a common English version of the Hebrew name Rivkah.

Ann is an English (and less common) variant of Anna, a Greek version of the Hebrew name Chanah.

By using the name "Rebecca Ann" instead of "Rebecca Chanah", Jeremy and Clara are both choosing to keep the entire name friendly to English-speaking ears and also emphasizing placing a name from the Tenach before a name from the Apostolic Writings.

3. The Word Meanings

Rebecca is from the Hebrew name Rivkah, one of the matriarchs.

The three letter root word is resh-vet-kof, which is not used as a verb in scripture but is known to mean "tie fast" or "confine". The noun marvayk does appear, meaning "stall", as in a place where an animal is confined or tied up. That same word is twice used as an adjective to describe an animal that is fat because it lives in a stall and does not exercise.

The matriarch Rivkah completely overcomes any negative connotations of her name. She is beautiful and active, not fat and lethargic. The significant things she does all focus on freedom, never tying up or holding back someone: she leaves her family (by her choice) for Avraham's more righteous family, meets and comforts Yitzchak, has two children, avoids trouble with Avimelech, and places Ya'akov above Esav (as God desires).

Oddly, Rivkah is the only one among the patriarchs and matriarchs for whom we do not read of her death. We know from Genesis 49:31 that she was buried with her husband in the cave of Machpelah, but even Rivkah's life does not have a final "tying up".

Ann is a short form of Anna, which is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Chanah. Samuel's mother had this name, as did the prophetess who met the infant Yeshua in the Temple.

The three letter root word is chet-nun-nun, which is a very common verb that means "to show favor" or "to be gracious". The noun form is also very common: chayn , meaning "favor" or "grace". A related word is cheenam, meaning "for free" or "without cause". Someone is gracious when he or she acts generously with no strings attached and because of his or her own generosity, not because of anything about the recipient.

Thus the name Chanah can mean either "favored" or "gracious". The two Biblical women with this name were both favored by God and gracious towards others.

Chanah and Anna were also similar because both prayed at the Temple and these prayers helped establish a special child who would lead and bless their people.

4. Conclusion

So we have first a name from the Tenach, and then a name from the Apostolic Writings.

We think about experiencing freedom rather than confinement, and then about being favored and gracious.

We remember three women who prayed, and whose prayers helped all of Israel. None did anything incredibly exciting or heroic. None faced great dangers, although all three women overcame family issues by making God's prophecies and promises real in their lives. Yet all three were a source of comfort to those around them who gave gracious care to God's chosen child in their generation.

Thus "Rebecca Ann" is a name about favored intercession in prayer, and about gracious comforting in deed. It is a name about freedom and bringing freedom, about being blessed and bringing blessing. It is a name about seeing prophecy fulfilled and covenants connected.

As the family and community of Rebecca Ann, we should help her grow into her name. We must model intercession, prayer, and gracious acts. We should share how to spread freedom and bring blessing. We should be familiar with prophecy and its fulfillments, and model hope for more prophetic happenings.

Let us pray...