Adding A Name

The tradition of adding a name in cases of serious illness

If you are reading this article because you or or a loved one is facing a serious illness or health condition, please allow me to offer a prayer.

Mi shebeirach avoteinu. M’kor habracha l’imoteinu.
May the source of strength who blessed the ones before us,
help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing and let us say: Amen.

Mi shebeirach imoteinu M’kor habracha l’avoteinu
Bless those in need of healing with refuah sh’leimah, the renewal of body, the renewal of spirit
And let us say: Amen

 The source of the tradition
The Talmud teaches us (Rav Yitzchak, Rosh Hashanah 16b) Four things change a harsh decree, they are; charity, prayer, changing one’s name and changing one’s deeds. The precedent of this teaching is found in the book of Bereshit (Genesis). God changes Sarah’s name from “Sarai,” (my princess) to “Sarah,” (mother of nations), with these words “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah” (Bereshit 17:15). Her destiny is changed and she conceives a child after years of infertility. “And the promise of God was fulfilled for Sarah. She became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him” (Bereshit 21:1-2).

The custom is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) as an appropriate communal reaction to serious illness or health concerns of a community member. The ceremony is done in the presence of a Minyan (10 Jewish Adults). It can either be done at bedside or in the synagogue. The liturgy can be found in Moreh Derekh (The Rabbi’s Manual of the Conservative Movement) or Hamadrikh (The Rabbi’s Manual of the RCA and the Orthodox Union).

Selecting a name

It is customary to add a name that is considered an implied blessing. This is done in one of two ways;

  1. Selecting a name that implies a positive outcome for the person receiving the name. Some examples are found below. These are only examples, many other names may be appropriate.
    Female Names

    Chayah the meaning of Chayah is “life”
    Channah the meaning of Channah is “God Favor”
    Rafaela the meaning of Rafaela is “God heals”
    Yocheved the meaning of Yocheved is “with the help of God’s Glory”

    Male Names

    Chayim the meaning of Chayim is “life”
    Shalom the meaning of Shalom is “Peace”
    Rafael the meaning of Rafael is “God heals”
    Azriel the meaning of Azriel is “with the help of God “
  2. The name of a relative who lived a long life of health and blessing may be selected. It is a custom to avoid names of Biblical figures who had a tragic or short life.

May God grant you and your family a life of health, happiness, love and well-being.

With Torah blessings,

Rabbi David Rafael Senter