Choosing a Name for a Baby – part 1

Q: Should one seek advice from a Rabbi when choosing a name for a baby?
A: No. And in previous generations, people didn't seek such advice the way they do today. In any event, the Arizal says that when parents name the baby, they are infused with a spark of Divine intuition.

Q: Does the name influence one's personality?
A: No. Yishmael is a nice name (G-d will hear), but Yishmael was an evildoer, and it works the other way as well. What determines one's behavior is one's freely made choices later on.

Q: Does one's name influence one's fate?
A: No. What is meant when our Sages state that one can change an evil decree by changing one’s name is explained by the Rambam (Hilchot Teshuvah 2:4) that by repenting in a serious way, a person’s name gets changed. This means, "I seriously repented and I am no longer the same person." This certainly changes the decree of a person. Rabbenu Nissim - The Ran – has the opposite approach (Rosh Hashanah 3b in the pages of the Rif). He said that if I change my name and every time I mention the new name, it inspires me to repent, I can change my situation. The essence of changing one's name is not a trick. The point is to say: I am not the same person, I am someone new.

Q: The Torah states that Noach was called by that name because he was destined to "make man's life easier" ("yanchenu" in Hebrew). It appears that names do have an influence.
A: Our Sages explain that in those times people had Divine intuition. They therefore named their children for future events. We, however, who lack this ability name our children after parents and grandparents to honor them. Ashkenazim wait until the honoree has passed away. Sefardim honor him in his life time.

Q: Is it permissible to name somebody after an evildoer?
A: Ashkenazim and Sefardim generally do not do so. For example, the Tosafot (Yoma 38b and Ketubot 104b) remark that the name "Avshalom" (King David's rebellious son) should not be used. Yemenite Jews, however, are not concerned by this since the name Avshalom (lit. father is peace) is a beautiful name. If Ashkenazim and Sefardim are naming after someone and an evildoer also has that name, it is permissible to use the name since the family has the other context in mind.