Naming Traditions

What’s In A Name?

Article by Helen Akinc, Kybele, Inc

Pregnant%20woman%20in%20field In different parts of the world, how a baby is named follows a variety of traditions. In parts of Africa, babies may be named according to when they were born (day of the week) or where they were born (on a journey or Ghana or Nigeria). In many cases parents name their babies, or give them their first name and the last name is the family surname.  Grandparents may have the honor of naming their grandchildren in some cultures.

The namakaran ceremony is a Hindu tradition done usually on the twelfth day of a baby’s life, if at all possible. It involves a gathering of the parents, family members and close friends and the baby’s name is whispered into the infant’s ear in a special ceremony.  The parents and baby are showered with blessings and gifts.

Kevin Barry, in his blog, Irinajoyinbo, describes the Yoruban baby-naming ceremony, Isomoloruko, of his Nigerian host family in which he participated. It took place a few days after the baby was born and involved close family and friends gathering together.  He described how the baby was passed around, with people offering blessings and prayers. Grandparents as well as others offered suggestions of names as well, and he remarked that it is common for as many as ten names to be suggested. The name that the parents use most often becomes the one that remains, although an elder may continue to use the name he or she gave to the child. Money is also given and a feast is part of the ceremony. Names have meanings and may describe the circumstances of the birth or a wish for particular blessings or strength or wealth.

According to Caroline Mensah in the blog, MeFiriGhana Ghanaian naming ceremonies take place on the 8th day after a baby’s birth. The baby is given two names, one a “soul” name which corresponds to the day of the week the baby was born. The baby will also receive a formal name, which relates to the purpose and ideals seen as the child’s individual destiny. Prayers and blessings are given to the child. In some traditions, two cups are used. One is filled with water and the other with a strong tasting drink, like wine. The baby tastes a finger dipped into each and is taught that water is water and wine is wine.

Rabbi Andrea Frank, in her website, the Jewish Wedding Rabbi, describes naming ceremonies. Boy babies are traditionally named on the 8th day after birth, when they are circumcised as well. This ceremony, called “Bris” takes place at home. It is celebratory and the parents will usually give the child two names, their Hebrew name as well a secular name. The Hebrew name is chosen very carefully as it often honors people in the family or religious history and places the child firmly in the community.  For girls, the ceremony is called Brit Bat “welcoming the daughter to the covenant” or Simchat Bat “celebration of the daughter”. 

In many parts of the world, surnames as we know them in many parts of the West are not always used and so the name given to a child may designate his or her place in the birth order, a designation of a particular clan, or other factors deemed important.  In some cultures, it is considered bad luck to name a person after another person. In other cultures, it is an honor to do so. How did you get your name?

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