As I write this, you’re merely 7 weeks old. It’s hard for me to believe that eight weeks ago you were an aquanaut, swooshing in my belly.
I’m writing because your Dad and I are planning a naming ceremony for you. You know, that’s a secular ceremony that’s held instead of a baptism.
I remember when we gave your big brother his naming ceremony. We held it in Granny and Grandad’s backroom, the one with the windows stretching floor-to-ceiling. Autumn sunlight splashed across Granny’s emerald, filigreed rug. All your cousins and Aunties and Uncles were there. Aunty Margo is a celebrant, so we asked her to officiate. My friend’s partner snapped photos. And Daddy had a gorgeous grin on his face.
To prepare for the ceremony, Aunty Margo had asked us: Why did you choose this name? What do you hope for your child? I think she was asking about the spirit in which we decided on his name.
Daddy and I had talked a lot about why and how we would chose our children’s names. We started by creating a new family-name. We wanted you to be able to wear both your Chinese and Jewish heritages proudly, so we combined our names to make Levi-Chang.
I sometimes think that my Chinese surname is the most Chinese part of who I am. An academic once told me that it’s derived from the name of a river, and I’ve made sure that I know how to write it in character form. From the time I left school, I’ve used the Chinese character at the start of my signature. That way, I figure that I’ll use it regularly and hopefully won’t forget it.
Mostly I’ve been using it to sign credit card slips. Shop assistants’ reactions have been interesting. Occasionally an alert salesperson will look at it closely and nod. Once someone said to me, “Wow, that’ll be hard to forge.” At the time it made me think, well, what if the forger could write Chinese?
At other times, a shop person from a Chinese background might notice my signature. Those people tend to look at me differently from the Westerners, but of course, I don’t know what they’re thinking…
I am also very proud Daddy’s family name. When we became engaged, Daddy’s father asked me if I was planning to take his name. I said that I wasn’t. My reason was partly that I’m not Jewish, so to take on a Jewish name seemed to be claiming an identity that wasn’t authentically mine. And besides, I like my name the way it is. I didn’t know what your Grandad would think of my plans, so I was surprised at the dear man’s response. He smiled slightly and said, “That’s good. That’s good, because you know, there’s still a lot of anti-Semitism around.”
I felt deeply touched by his urge to protect me, while at the same time I felt sad for him. Because, although I acknowledge that I’m only an observer, that’s not the world that Daddy lives in now. He doesn’t experience anti-Semitism in Melbourne, today. I know it must have been very different for your Grandad; living through the war and learning the devastating news of how Jews were suffering in Europe. But it never occurred to your Dad or me to disguise your Jewish identity. Like the message in the Purim story, we hope that you will stand up to fully acknowledge your Jewish heritage.
Your brother’s given names took a little longer to arrive at. We wanted to follow our respective cultural traditions. Daddy’s family follows the Jewish Ashkenazi custom of not naming babies after a living relative. Since they often name children after a deceased relative, to use the name of a living relative might seem like a wish for that person to die soon!
On the other hand, for myself as a student of Buddhism, I preferred not to name my child after a dead relative, as I believe it’s better not to repeatedly bring that deceased person to mind.
We managed to reconcile these customs without much difficulty. While David is my favourite male name, it’s Daddy’s brother’s name, so it was struck of the short list. Daddy wanted to use Grandad’s name, Alexander, as he had passed away. So I was happy when he suggested we use this as a middle name. Because really, how often do you use your middle name? And for his first name we chose Balckie, but the story behind that would fill another letter entirely.
Before you were born, little girl, Aunty Margo’s questions returned to my mind: Why this name? What are our hopes for you? Through the process of answering these questions, our hopes for you became woven in your name.
Of course, it made sense to give you the same family name as your brother.
And for your first name, I wanted to follow the Asian tradition and give you a name that spoke of our aspirations for your temperament, strengths and actions. (A Japanese friend once jokingly explained this as parents ordering their kids, “You must become this!”) And so your name written in characters means blessed and beautiful. In Japanese, it’s pronounced E-mi. It rhymes with ‘semi’, as in ‘semicircle’.
Yes, we do hope you are blessed. Yes, we do hope you are beautiful. But, in the spirit of this name, while I was pregnant the following motto kept coming to mind: To those to whom much is give, much will be required. So it is also our hope that these qualities are not for your personal gain alone, but that by being blessed, you are enabled to share blessings with others; and that by being beautiful, your beautiful actions may bring countless benefits to others.
And as your middle name, for fun, we gave you Shoshana, meaning lily in Hebrew.
May you befit and enjoy your name.
Love, always and ever,