Names Tell a Story Mitzvah Workshop


Subject: Names Tell A Story Mitzvah Workshop

Target: 5th Grade Families

Time Frame: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Congregation: United Hebrew

Contributor: Cheryl Whatley


Fifth grade families meet to talk about names in context of being called to the Torah for bar/bat mitzvah.  Parents write “the story of your name” letters to their children.  Then together children and parents create a beautiful name plaque.


To engage families in discussion of names in their families, especially the names of the 5th graders.  A good name is to be treasured as we learn in Ecclesiastes.  Students and their parents will discuss the story of the child’s name – its history, meaning and any other story about how the child came to have his/her name.  This is in conjunction with their curricular studies on Jewish life cycle events.  A baby receives his/her name at brit milah or a naming ceremony, and thereafter is referred to by that name when called to the Torah and to the chupa.


  • Child will know full English name and “sacred” name (Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, etc.).
  • Child will learn history and meaning of the name(s), where it came from, why it was chosen by the parents.
  • Family will look up name in name book for meaning.
  • Family will select text to accompany name (may be related to text story about someone in the bible with the same name or maybe a concept that the family finds meaningful, such as joy or study).
  • Parents will write a note to the child about the story of the child’s name, which will be attached to the back of the plaque later for the child to discover.
  • Family will create a name plaque together for the child, with pictures, wood burnishing, writing, original artwork, pasted and decoupaged pictures, etc.  The finished plaque will have a hanger hook on back and be coated to protect it.

Target Population

Fifth Grade Families


Begins in classrooms and moves to a group work area.


  1. Tanachs
  2. Hebrew alphabet charts
  3. Baby name books with English and Hebrew
  4. Wooden plaques
  5. Wood burnishing tools (available inexpensively at craft stores, such as Michael’s or Hobby Lobby)
  6. Paper for sketching design ideas
  7. Old Jewish holiday cards, magazines, calendars
  8. Colored pencils
  9. Pencils
  10. Glue sticks
  11. Clear coating
  12. Paint brush
  13. Hooks
  14. Hammers
  15. Index cards, large size


  1. Purchase supplies and prepare lesson for students about names.
  2. Each parent is given a Parent Page with the following information about names to discuss:

    Our life cycle begins at birth when given a Jewish or Hebrew name that will contribute to our Jewish identity and help define us for eternity.  Whether we’re named after a loved one, a special place, a sentiment or characteristic, our name will stay with us through all our life events.  This is the name by which we are called to the Torah and is on our wedding ketubah (marriage certificate).  The giving of a Hebrew name was decreed mandatory back during Talmudic times by the Rabbis.  Naming customs differ for Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews.  The Ashkenazic mostly name children after deceased relatives, whereas the Sephardic believe it to be good luck to name children after living relatives. 

    In the Torah there are two famous stories about dramatic name changes that defined the Jewish people.  Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah after they accept the covenant with God and become the parents of the Jewish people.  Then there is the change of Jacob, a word meaning “supplanter,” which refers to his victorious struggle with his brother, Esau.  After Jacob wrestles with an angel, he gets a completely new name – Israel, wrestler with God” –  and becomes the patriarch of the 12 tribes.

    Today, as we talk about names please share with your children their Hebrew names and their significance to your children and families.  Who are they named after and why?  What characteristics or features led you to choose the names?  As your children are nearing the next life cycle event, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, their names will have more meaning to them.  They will be embarking on their continued journey of personal growth and development of their identity as part of the Jewish Community.

  3. Be sure that each parent has a large index card, no larger than the plaque size, and is instructed to write only on one side a letter to his/her child about the child’s name.
  4. Cover tables with plastic for each parent/child team to have a work space. Put a Tanach (Bible), colored pencils, scissors and glue sticks on each table.
  5. Set up 2 supplies tables: one for Judaic cutouts, magazines, calendars, etc. to cut up for designs; the other with the wood-burning equipment.
  6. After the families leave, the leader applies a clear coating to the fronts of the plaques.  Then the letter cards are applied to the backs of the plaques.
  7. The students receive them the following session and are surprised by the letters on the backs of their plaques.

Program Activities

15-20 minutes  
Meet in classrooms.  Teachers will give welcome and introduce the topic and the project.     

20 minutes
Teacher does a lesson with students about names.

Parents move to the other room to discuss name customs and to be given their writing assignment about the children’s names.  A Parent Page is given out that has information about Jewish naming customs, thoughts about names, etc.  Each parent is told to use one side only of a large index card on which to write a letter to his/her child with the story of the child’s name: who named for, why name was chosen, etc. Parents are not to tell the children about the letter.

1 hour 
Children and parents meet in the auditorium for finding biblical quotations to use and for the art project of designing and creating the name plaques. Rabbi/Cantor will come for about 15 min. to help families choose a Hebrew name if they would like, for children who do not already have Hebrew names.  Families can draw with colored pencils, make wood-burned designs, glue on cutouts of Judaic pictures cut from magazines, Jewish calendars, Jewish holiday cards, etc. Parents and children are called in small groups to come to use the wood- burning tools to prevent anyone from getting burned. (Both boys and girls, parents and students love this part because it is different from the usual. They work intently.)Parents and children hammer a wall hanger onto the back of their plaques.  After, a clear coating is applied and the index card letters are attached to the backs.


None of the supplies is that costly.  Many of them can be reused.


Everyone loves this program, from kids to teachers to art teachers

References and Resources

Kolatch, Alfred  J  Best Baby Names for Jewish Children Jonathan David Publishers, Inc New York, 1998

Sample Biblical Quotes

“The ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness
And all its paths are peace.”    Proverbs

“Train up a child in the way he should go
And even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”    Proverbs

“For this child we have prayed.”    Samuel 1:27

“Light shine upon us
Our people have increased
And our joy is made great
For we have born a child
May there be no end of peace.”    Isaiah 9

“With each child, the world begins anew.”    Midrash

“By the breath of children God sustains the world.”    Shabbat 119b

A good name is better than great riches.”     Proverbs 22

“She is a gift and a wonder”     Psalms

“The power attributed to a ‘good’ name
is only as strong as the person who bears it.”   Anita Diamont

Possible Biblical References

Biblical Names in stories:
Cain and Able                    Genesis 4:1-16
Noah                                 Genesis 6:5-8, 12; 20:9
Abraham (goes forth)        Genesis 12:1-7
Abraham (Father of nations)  Genesis 17:1-19
Isaac (family creation)        Genesis 24:63-67; 25:7-11
Esau and Jacob (birth)       Genesis 25:19-26
Jacob (dream)                    Genesis 28:10-19
Jacob (name change)        Genesis 32:4-9; 23-32; 33:1-5
Joseph (the dreamer)        Genesis 37:1-10
Joseph and Benjamin         Genesis 43:16; 45:15
Moses (Moshe)                   Exodus 2:1-10
Moses and God                Exodus 3:1-23; 27-31
Jeremiah                          1:26, 32, 36, 38, 52
Isaiah (peace)                     2:2-4