Halacha Date: 6 Kislev 5780 December 4 2019
Question: May one call one’s father by his first name? Also, may one call a friend with the same name as one’s father by his first name?
Answer: A child may not call his father or mother by their first name. For instance, if one’s father’s name is “Shmuel,” the son may not call him “Shmuel”; rather, he should call his father “Abba,” “Dad,” and the like. This law is quoted explicitly by the Gemara. The reason for this is because when one mentions the names of his father or mother, it should be done with reverence, similar to how one mentions Hashem’s name with reverence.
The Rambam adds that even to call a friend that has the same first name as one’s father by his first name is prohibited. For instance, if one’s friend has the same name as his father, “Shmuel,” one may not call his friend by his first name, Shmuel; rather, one should call one’s friend by a certain nickname, for instance, if the friend’s name is Shmuel and some people call him “Shmuli,” one may call him by this nickname, but one may not call him by his full first name, Shmuel. The Rambam’s position is rooted in the Talmud and is brought down as the Halacha. Nevertheless, the custom is seemingly not in accordance with the Rambam’s view, for people are customarily lenient to call friends with the same first name as their father by their first name and we find no one worrying about causing an affront to their father’s honor.
Indeed, from the words of the Rambam in a different place, we can infer that this Halacha does not apply to all names, for the Rambam writes in one of his responses that this law applies only to an uncommon name and only then will it be prohibited to call a friend bearing the same first name as one’s father by his first name.
For instance, if one’s father’s name is “Gamliel” or “Boaz,” which are both uncommon names, and the son has a friend with the same name, in this case it will be prohibited to call the friend by his first name, even if this is done while not in the presence of the father. However, regarding a name that is not uncommon, it will only be prohibited to call a friend bearing the same first name as one’s father by his first name in the presence of the father. For instance, if one’s father’s first name is “Shmuel” and the son has a friend with the same name, the son may indeed call his friend by his first name, “Shmuel,” unless this is done in the presence of the father in which case it will be prohibited, for it is not respectful to call one’s friend by his first name which is the same name as one’s father in the presence of the father.
The custom of many Sephardic, Middle Eastern, and North African Jews is to name one’s children after the child’s living grandparents and this custom is correct and appropriate without a shadow of a doubt, for this is the honor and wishes of one’s parents that their grandchildren bear their names and fulfilling one’s wishes is an honor to them.
Although the custom of the Jews of Iraq (Maran zt”l’s birthplace) was not to call grandchildren by their living grandparents’ names, nevertheless, the following incident once occurred: At the celebration marking the Berit Milah of Maran’s eldest son, Maran’s father, Rabbi Yaakov zt”l, came over to him and whispered, “What are you planning to name your son?” Maran replied, “I am planning to name him ‘Avraham’ after my father-in-law, Rabbi Avraham Fattal, who is from the Syrian city of Aleppo whose custom it is to name a child after their living grandparent.” His father asked, “And what about me?” Maran zt”l replied, “We are of Iraqi heritage and Iraqi Jews customarily do not name their children after their living grandparents.” Rabbi Yaakov exclaimed, “I am not concerned about this issue at all!” And so it came to pass that Maran named his son “Yaakov” (he named his second son “Avraham”). The Mohel was one of the greatest Babylonian sages of the time, Hagaon Harav Tzadka Hussein zt”l, and he likewise did not point out anything about the issue of naming after the living. Furthermore, Maran zt”l named his daughter “Yaffa” after his living mother (whose name was “Gorgia” which means “beautiful” in Arabic and translates to “Yaffa” in Hebrew). When Maran once saw one of his sons-in-law calling his son a nickname so as not to call him “Ovadia” in the presence of Maran zt”l, Maran pointed out to him that this was an incorrect practice.
Summary: One may not call one’s father by his first name. If one has a friend bearing the same first name as one’s own father, one may not call the friend by his first name if this is being done in the presence of the father; however, if this is being done while not in the presence of the father, it is permissible to do so. If it is an uncommon name, it will be forbidden to do so even if this is being done while not in the presence of the father.