Before I was born, my parents had a dog named Rachel. She was a stray they’d picked up along the way, a black dog of unspecific origin. She was old by the time I came around, but there’s a story that when I was six months old, my mom called for “Rachel,” and the dog hobbled over to Mom thinking she was the one being asked for, and I crawled.
I like my name, it’s a good name. There are a lot of biblical names with negative connotations, but mine is pretty clean and positive. So I should be happy.
Except, my brother wasn’t named after a family pet.
My father said the names were a coincidence. I was named after a great grandmother named Rachel, and Rachel dog was maybe named after Rabbi Ralph or one of the rabbits my parents kept in the backyard before I was born.
There’s a Jewish custom, or superstition, against naming a child after a living relative. I’m sure there’s a long tractate somewhere explaining the reasons, but I remember being told that it was wrong to take a name from someone who was still busy using it. As if you’d steal some of their years along with their name. And Rachel dog was still alive when I stole her name. She didn’t live much longer after that, either.
I feel like my father was sending me a message by giving me the same name as the family dog. He made a point of not talking about it, just leaving the truth in the background, for me to discover on my own and guess at the significance. It was a message he could hide from the outside world, who would only see the loveliness of the biblical Rachel, and never see the humiliation.