Jewish Law

Daily Halacha: Naming After One Who Died Young

Q. My brother died in a road accident at the age of 20. My wife is expecting a boy and I wanted to know whether I could call my son after my brother and add the word “Chaim” to his name?

Q. Should the Israeli navy name a submarine after the Dakar submarine which sunk and in which 69 sailors lost their lives?

A. The Maharshal, Rabbi Shlomo Luria, said that one should not call a child Yeshayahu, but rather Yishayah, since the prophet Yishayahu suffered a violent death, whereas the name Yishayah, mentioned in Divrei Hayamim (one of the books of the Bible) has no such negative connotations. (Yam Shel Shlomo, Gittin 4:31)

However the Beit Shmuel writes that the Remah, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, argues on this as he says that one should write in a divorce document Gedalyahu (if one is called by that name) and not Gedalya, despite the fact that Gedalyahu ben Achikam, the leader of the Jews after the destruction of the First Temple, was murdered.

The Chatam Sofer explains that even according to Rema one should not name after a person who was killed, but the names Gedalyahu and Yeshayahu also commemorate two Levites who served in the Temple and whose names are enumerated in Divrei Hayamim.

Pitchei Teshuva (Yoreh Deah 116:6) adds that one who wants to call his child after another of his children who died should not do so since this could be “bad luck” for the child.

The Kaf Hachaim, Rav Yaakov Chaim Sofer, recounts that the Vilna Gaon had a daughter whose children died young. When she next became pregnant she asked her father for a segula (talisman) which would protect her child and he told her that in such a situation she should give the child another name and add the name of his deceased brother as a second name. It is reported that Rabbi Elyashiv said that one should not use only the second name but rather use both names or only use the first name. However if one had named the second name after a parent, one may use only that name in deference to one's parent.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein suggests that we should distinguish between one who died a normal death even at a young age and one who died a violent death, since we find people naming for Shmuel and Shlomo even though they died at the relatively young age of 52. Despite this Rabbi Feinstein adds that if the young person died childless, one should not give the same name but rather add another name. He also reportedly dealt with the extremely sensitive issue of naming after people who died in the Holocaust and stated that since this was a cataclysm which affected the entire Jewish nation and not just individuals, it could not be considered bad luck to name for those holy individuals who perished in the Holocaust.

In conclusion, it is preferable to give a child another name and not the name of one who died accidentally or at a young age. However one may give that name as a second name for the child.

With regard to the submarine, it would appear that the same logic would apply and since the first submarine was lost in tragic circumstances, it would not be a good omen to give the same name to another submarine. However if the submarine had fallen in battle, this could be considered a calamity which affected many people and there would be no objection to naming another submarine after it, just as many settlements now are named for those which were destroyed during the War of Independence.

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