Rabbi Braun: When Should a Name Be Changed?




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    Rabbi Braun: When Should a Name Be Changed?

    From Beis Moshiach Magazine: When Should a Name Be Changed? Is It True That One Shouldn’t Share a Name with an In-Law? By HaRav Yosef Yeshaya Braun shlita, Mara D’Asra and member of the Badatz of Crown Heights • Full Article

    By HaRav Yosef Yeshaya Braun shlita, Mara D’Asra and member of the Badatz of Crown Heights

    Not Nonchalant on a Name Change

    Shinui ha’shem (changing a person’s [Jewish] name) is not done lightly. A person’s name is a tzinor ha’chayim (channel of life) for the individual. The pasuk (verse) in Bereishis states, “nefesh chaya hu shemo” (a living creature, this is his name); this is interpreted to mean that the life-giving nefesh (also called neshama) is bound with the individual’s name. It is further taught in the name of the Arizal (16th century kabbalist) that the name the parents give their son at his bris is chosen b’ruach haKodesh (Divine inspiration).

    There is a tradition that shinui ha’shem can remove a gzar din (negative Heavenly decree) from a person. There are two explanations for how a name change can affect this. The Medrash says that the shinui ha’shem of Avrom to Avrohom was associated with the mazal (destiny) of the different names: Avrom was childless, but Avrohom—with the letter hei added to his name—was able to father children. In this manner, the original name had been an impediment to blessing. Alternately, a name change can indicate a type of rebirth like the process of teshuva (repentance), and the needed blessing can then be channeled to this “new” individual. The most common situation which calls for a name-change is for a choleh (sick person) in the case of critical illness, lo aleinu. (If the choleh does not recover, chas v’shalom, halacha dictates that the new name is no longer relevant, and should not be used. But if the choleh recovers, the added name remains part of their name, even if they pass away at a later time.)

    There are times when people may otherwise wish to change their name. When it comes to shidduchim, for example, shinui ha’shem may be warranted, since many are careful that a prospective in-law not share a name with the bride or groom (see Halacha #370). In these cases, it is the accepted practice to consult with a chacham (an especially learned person) who will weigh the current circumstances and may offer suggestions for appropriate names. We are cautious not to make these decisions except under guidance, since “messing” with our spiritual makeup in this way may be potentially damaging.

    Shinui ha’shem (under the proper halachic guidelines) usually occurs before the Torah, when a specific mi shebeirach (prayer for an individual at the end of a Torah reading portion) is recited in front of a minyan (prayer quorum [of ten men]). (The subject of the name change—man or woman—need not be present.)

    The custom is not to drop the old name; the new name is added to the existing one, and becomes the first of the given names. The new name should be used for at least thirty days so it becomes a name that is muchzak (halachically established); we should be sure to call the individual with their new name (in addition to the original one) so that it does not become nishtaka (obsolete, see Halacha #469).

    See next Halacha about the writing of a kesubah when someone was subject to shinui hashem. Halacha2Go #809

    A spouse’s name was changed. How does it affect the kesubah?

    The kesubah, the document a husband accords his wife which details her marital rights, is an essential part of the marriage ceremony. The kesubahmust contain the full names of the couple, and their names must be spelled correctly.

    Contemporary poskim have raised the question of what if a spouse’s name was changed over the course of the marriage—whether due to an illness, G-d forbid, or some other reason—which results in the kesubah no longer being accurate. Oddly, this issue does not seem to have been addressed in previous generations.

    There are four differing halachic opinions as to what should be done:

    1. Have a new kesubahwritten, using the special text for a kesubah d’ishtakach bah ta’usa (a kesubah that was found to have a mistake in it).
    2. Have a new kesubahwritten with a special text containing the information that a name was added.
    3. Simply add the new information at the bottom of the original kesubahand have two kosher witnesses sign it.
    4. There’s no need to do anything since the kesubahwas correct at the time that it was written.
    5. Due to the differences of opinion, a Rav should be consulted if this issue arises. Halacha2Go #415

    Is It True That One Shouldn’t Share a Name with an In-Law?

    Rabbi Yehuda HaChassid writes in his tzavaah (will) that a father-in-law and a son-in-law, as well as a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law, should not have the same names. Potentially good shidduchimwith people who are yerei Shomayim(G-d fearing) that have been suggested are often bypassed due to this issue. One suggestion is to add a name to either of them. According to numerous poskim, there is no problem as long as one of them has an additional name that is not shared. The Tzemach Tzedek writes that there is no chashash klal u’klal (absolutely no problem) in such a case because if one of them has a name that is not shared, then their names are completely different names. Adding a name has to be done in a certain way, and one should get the guidance of a Rav to ensure that the new name will be a name that is muchzak (established). From the time that a person receives a new name, they should use it regularly, either together with their old name or by itself, so that the new name does not become a shem she’nishtaka (name that has fallen into disuse). Halacha2Go #370

    * References are available for this Halacha on the websites: www.Halacha2Go.com and www.AskTheRav.com

    Please note that these halachos apply in general situations, if you are unsure whether the halacha applies to your particular situation, please consult a Rav.


    The magazine can be obtained in stores around Crown Heights. To purchase a subscription, please go to: bmoshiach.org


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