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The Riddle of the Double Naming

Monday, 27 July, 2020 - 11:04 pm


Question of the Week:

I'm so embarrassed to write this. We have just realised that we named our second son with exactly the same Hebrew name as our oldest son. They are both Chaim Leib! We feel so silly. They are names of two of our late grandfathers and we simply forgot that we already used those names. Is there anything we can do? The younger one is two, and the oldest is already five so I want to fix it before his bar mitzvah!


Don't be embarrassed. You are in good company. The great Talmudic sage Rav Chisda had two sons with the same name. They were both called Mar. To differentiate them, one was known as Young Mar and the other, Old Mar.

Here's a Talmudic riddle: Who do you think was older, Young Mar or Old Mar? Young Mar of course! He was called Young Mar because he was born when his parents were young, while Old Mar was born in their older years. So Old Mar was younger, and Young Mar was older. Obviously.

We don't know why Rav Chisda named his sons the same name, but it is not the common practice. Your boys need their own names. On a practical level, to avoid confusion, and on a spiritual level, to give each their own soul identity, you need to do what Rav Chisda did and differentiate their names.

In your case, since you were not all that much older when the younger one was born, adding Young and Old epithets won't work. Luckily, there is a much simpler solution.

Since both your children have two names, you can use one for each and drop the other. So the older can be Chaim, the younger Leib. Or the other way around. And you don't need any ceremony. Just using the one name for each causes the other name to be forgotten.

May you only have nachas from them, and may they grow to be great scholars like Young and Old Mar.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Moss 



Rashi on Kesubos 89b says Young Mar was younger, Old Mar was older. But Tosfos on Baba Basra 7b says the opposite. The seniority of Young Mar is indicated by the fact that he is mentioned first when the Talmud quotes the two brothers together.

(Note: Mar may not have been their name. Mar means 'master.' It could be a title, or it could be a name.)

Likkutei Sichos 17 p 474

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