This past weekend we celebrated the introduction of our precious Tsipporah, and officially welcomed her into our home congregation. After having many people ask how we choose “Tsipporah Ruth” as a name, this was finally our opportunity to share the story behind the decision. There is something beautiful and satisfying about the formality of a Simchat Bat no matter how simple, short, and sweet it is, but I have been anxious to describe the finer details on what her name means to us, and how G-d showed His confirmation over our decision.
Tsipporah, which means “bird” in Hebrew, was a name on our minds for many years. Back in the early days of our relationship Jonathan and I, like most young and in love couples, would often talk about our plans for the future. I was insistent, due to an especially intense circumstance, that our future son would be named “Jude” (“Yehudah” is the Hebrew form that “Judah” is derived from).
I remember the moment “Tsipporah” entered the picture rather clearly. We were sitting in a diner waiting for our food, and having another discussion about our future (I was about 19 or so). After talking it over for what was probably the 100th time, Jonathan asked what we would do if we were to have a daughter someday. Up until that point I hadn’t put any thought into that possibility. I had been so wrapped up in the intuitive knowledge that we were eventually going to have a boy, I had no idea what girl names I preferred for a daughter.
Since I had nothing to say on the issue Jonathan simply stated that he had always liked the name “Tsipporah”.
And that was that. I figured I would think it over later and come up with my own preferences to debate over, but as we left the diner that night her name settled rather nicely in my mind. From then on further conversations about our future kids always seemed to include the idea of having a Yehudah and a Tsipporah. We were simply waiting for the right time to meet them.
The name “Ruth” came to me shortly after our diner conversation. I was observing Shavuot (equivalent to Pentecost) for the first time with the Messianic congregation we were beginning to call home. The traditional reading for this holiday is the Book of Ruth, which up until that point I had never read in full (for those who don’t know, growing up I had to journey outside of my home for religion. I didn’t have my own Bible and relied heavily on what I could pick up from youth groups and visiting the churches of whoever wanted to invite me). As I got to know this woman during the study, I connected deeply with her journey throughout the text.
So I mentioned to Jonathan the possibility of “Ruth” as a middle name for our future Tsipporah. From then on she was (going to be) known as “Tsipporah Ruth”.
When we became pregnant for the first time I fully expected a boy. The night before we were scheduled to find out the gender, Jonathan and I sat down to make our final decision on names. We sifted through both boy and girl possibilities, but the reality of the situation was I only had “Yehudah” in mind. When the ultrasound confirmed we were having a son, I wasn’t surprised in the least.
With baby number two I was less sure, but held a sneaking suspicion that we were going to have our baby girl. After all, isn’t that what we had naturally fallen into planning for? At least I did. When the ultrasound confirmed her gender, I was once again not surprised. I did, however, begin to have a wave of doubt on our name choice.
When we last tossed around baby names (in our first pregnancy), we still came to the conclusion of “Yehudah Yishai” and “Tsipporah Ruth”. The same names we always talked about. Part of that had to do with the fact that I wasn’t fully committed to finding a girl’s name at that time. I was too (rightly) convinced in my mind that we were having a boy, and he was going to be our Yehudah. This time around we hadn’t revisited possible alternatives, and I began wondering if we should at least pay some thought to other names. Just in case she was meant for something we had never considered.
After leaving our appointment Jonathan went back to work, and I went back home. The more I thought about it the more bothered I became over the fact that we never gave other names a chance. Once I got home I began searching and making lists. I went through dozens of names, researching their correct pronunciations and meanings. I made a narrowed list I approved of and sent them to Jonathan, who was too busy at work to respond in that moment.
To further my frustration I had to pause my investigation when the mail arrived. Packages are a big deal to Hudi, so when he found a box on the doorstep we both had to stop everything and see what was inside. I tore myself away from the list of names I had been playing with, and begrudgingly sat in the foyer with him to open the box.
As I was expecting, the package contained used children’s books I had ordered online (I emphasize “used” here). It is almost ritual that when books come in the mail, Hudi and I read them immediately upon arrival, so naturally he crawled into my lap to read The Carrot Seed. I was already irritable that my attention was being drawn elsewhere (I was anxious to figure out a name), and almost as soon as I began reading my disgruntlement increased.
I specifically choose a book marked as being in “very good” condition. Yet there, on the second page, some kid before us had written in the book.
I was trying to calm the hormonal nerves building up against false advertisement, when I actually looked at the writing:
The writing in the book said “Zepporia”.
I was frozen and in shock for a moment. No, it wasn’t the same exact name we had been planning all these years. But it was close enough to completely halt my baby name search. “Zipporah” is the more common transliterated spelling used in English Bible translations. “Z” is the closest single Latin letter to the Hebrew letter “Tsadi” (צ), which more accurately transliterates into a “ts”. And no, we weren’t planning to add the extra “ia” at the end of the name.
But, what were the chances of this?
Whether the spelling is “Tsipporah”, “Zipporah”, or “Zepporia” it is not a common name here in America (none of them are listed on the social security’s top 1,000 names for 2015). Yet of all the used copies of this book for sale, we received the one that had a variation of her unique name scrolled across one of the pages. On top of that, the timing of this find was perfect. We just found out we were having a girl, and needing confirmation on our decision I was literally pulled away from my search and redirected to our original choice. The one G-d had put on our hearts so many years before.
To add extra spin to the circumstances, I also noticed that The Carrot Seed was written by a woman named Ruth Krauss.
Snapping out of my shock I immediately messaged Jonathan with a picture of the book. There was no question from either of us that Tsipporah’s name was set in stone at this point.
After my moment of concern had been followed by something I consider to be confirmation, I was finally able to settle on what the name “Tsipporah Ruth” carries.
She is named after the Biblical Tsipporah and Ruth. Tsipporah, who was the wife of Moses, is a woman I find to be intensely fascinating and admirable. She saves Moses’ life on their way from Midian to Egypt (Exodus 4:24-26), and she stood beside Aaron and Moses as they confronted Pharaoh with G-d’s demand. She was witness to the plagues falling upon Egypt, and as the wife of a person coming to lead Israel out of slavery I would imagine people eyed her as an example of strength during such a hopeful, yet intimidating time.
While Tsipporah, to me, is a woman of fierce bravery and fortitude, Ruth is an exemplary woman of a patient and loving faith. When we first meet her in the Biblical narrative, she is a Moabite woman who was the widowed daughter-in-law of Naomi. After her husband dies, she refuses Naomi’s demand that she return to her Moabite home, and declares on of my favorite verses in the Bible:
“Where you go, I go. Where you stay, I stay. Your people shall be my people, and you’re god my god“.
The magnitude of determination in that stance carried Ruth to Bethlehem with Naomi, where G-d blessed her with Boaz, an honorable and godly man who takes her as his wife.
The lives of both these women have played a crucial role in G-d’s ultimate plan for the world. From saving her husbands life, to standing beside him as he shepherded Israel out of Egypt, Tsipporah is partly to credit for the eventual reception of Torah, and the establishment of Israel. Ruth’s commitment to Naomi, and Naomi’s G-d (our G-d), brought her into Bethlehem where she met Boaz. Together her and Boaz created a lineage that lead to King David, and eventually Yeshua (Jesus).
Whatever impact our Tsipporah Ruth has on this world, it is our hope that she establishes it through a faith which reflects something similar to the example of her namesakes. I pray that she remains a pillar of righteousness as she stands against adversaries throughout her life, just as Biblical Tsipporah stood against Pharaoh. It is also in our prayers that her relationship with Yeshua (Jesus) maintains a grounding of commitment similar to that of Ruth’s.
Wherever He goes, she will go. Where He stays, she will stay. His people shall be her people, and His G-d her G-d.