The Midrash Tanchuma says:
אַתְּ מוֹצֵא שְׁלֹשָׁה שֵׁמוֹת נִקְרְאוּ לוֹ לְאָדָם, אֶחָד מַה שֶּׁקּוֹרְאִים לוֹ אָבִיו וְאִמּוֹ, וְאֶחָד מַה שֶּׁקּוֹרְאִין לוֹ בְּנֵי אָדָם, וְאֶחָד מַה שֶּׁקּוֹנֶה הוּא לְעַצְמוֹ.
Chazal tell us a person has 3 names, what his parents call him, what hi peers call him, and lastly, the name he acquires for himself. Why do chazal switch from the lashon of “calling” by the name one receives from parents and peers to “acquires” by the name the individual gets himself?
Perhaps “name” here is deeper than just what he is called, not only a nickname or the like. A name can be a title, a role, the definition of a person. Our roles in our families and amongst peers are often defined for us. The oldest might resent the extra responsibility of being the “example” for the younger siblings or always having to do chores because the others are too young. The youngest might resent being “babied” by all the older siblings. Make no mistake, these are real roles, real names, yet we don’t have complete control over them. Often, we must accept them and make the most of the situation by learning from them. However, the name a person “makes” for himself, through work and effort, his goals and aspirations, the challenges he overcomes, that is a role that must be “acquired”, the individual must make that name for himself. It takes years, even a lifetime, for a person to define himself. Perhaps that is even our main purpose here in this world, to figure out who we are.
The Midrash concludes:
טוֹב מִכֻּלָּן מַה שֶּׁקּוֹנֶה הוּא לְעַצְמוֹ
The name a person makes for himself, his self-image and self-worth, those are the most important names he receives in life. Ultimately, we all have to deal with people who judge us or try to define us, and we can’t always change their opinion. Yet that has no bearing on our true self, which is defined by us and untouchable. When I discuss this with teens, they often express that they don’t really know who they are, and so that’s why being defined by others, labeled, can be so frustrating and even scary and painful. Its hard when you don’t know who you are and then someone who seems very sure of themselves tells you who you are. I always explain to them that this time of their lives is the most exciting, exactly because they are on the process of developing themselves and figuring themselves out. As we age, our internal self gets more and more solid and we can become “stuck” (obviously there is always teshuva, but we know the longer you have a habit the harder it is to change). Teenage years are so special exactly because they are confusing, they are full of so many possibilities and so much potential. It’s the excitement of a blank page before it is written or drawn on. When a teen looks at their own “page” though and sees very little or even nothing, they become self-conscious and feel bad about themselves. They often think that they are the only one like this, everyone else seems to have it all figured out (social media makes this much much worse, as everyone constantly posts words and pictures that depict their lives being more exciting and with it constantly than it is in reality, which is why its use elevates depression in teens). Teens need to know that the reason their pages are empty is not a reflection on themselves but because they haven’t had the opportunity to write anything yet, to work hard and accomplish.
The Midrash explains:
כָּל זְמַן שֶׁאָדָם מַרְבֶּה בַּמִּצְוֹת, הוּא קֹנֶה שֵׁם טוֹב לְעַצְמוֹ
The way to make your personal “name”, the most important name you receive, is through positive actions and accomplishments, what we call “Mitzvos”. Kids need boundaries, but they also need the freedom to do and accomplish, to try and fail and face challenges and learn about themselves. It is our responsibility to create and foster that type of environment for them, in a supportive and safe way.
Shabbat Shalom, Have a Great Shabbos
Ari Deutscher MSW