Baby naming traditions

Naming of a baby is a great event in every community. With the name she or he becomes part of a community. There are numerous traditions concerning this event.

The Miwok (Miwuk) tribe of northern California used to choose a name for their babies by the way the stream looked when the baby was born.

Some communities of the Hopi tribe who now primarily live in Arizona used to put an ear of corn next to a baby. The ear of corn symbolized the Mother Earth.

They held a special ceremony 20 days after baby's birth. They rubbed a baby with the corn. The baby was named when the first ray of sun hit his forehead.

The Navajo tribe whose biggest communities exist in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and California find their names very precious so they use them only during ceremonies. In everyday communication they for example say "Mother, go get Daughter".

The Sioux (Lakota, Nakota and Dakota) have six classes of names: birth order, honour, special deed, nicknames, secret and spirit names. The first name is given based on the gender and birth position of the child. During life person gets several names.

Today when a member of Sioux tribe wants to show respect to someone who is not related to him he says "uncle" or "grandfather".

For the people of Hawaii their "Inoa" (name) is very important. There is a traditional belief that an ancestral god will send a name to a member of the unborn child's family. The name can be seen through signs, visions, and dreams.

It is important to discover that name because if another is used it is going to cripple the child. People use all kind of tricks to "cheat" the spirits so they name the baby in secret or give several names.

Christian names given to babies today have been changed a bit to suit the Hawaiian language.

People in China never name a baby before her or his birth. They give the baby a fake or so called "milk" name. It should be something bad, disgusting like for example "mud face". It is done to make the evil spirits "sick" and get them away from the baby. Such names can stay during the childhood.

Chinese who speak Mandarin, Cantonese or some of dialects such as Hokkien give a name to their baby which usually has two syllables from the Chinese alphabet. Each syllable has a unique meaning. Because of thousands of characters in the Chinese alphabet it is quite rare to find persons with the same name.

The above mentioned is a tradition but nowadays new trends can be noticed. There are more and more names with only one syllable. Plus some characters are used more often. The character "Mei" meaning beautiful, for example, is popular as a girl name.

The names used in China can have all kind of meanings. For example, they can be of mythological origin or have special meaning known only to the family.

People in Japan observe the "Oshichiya" or "baby's seventh day". Family and friends gather to celebrate. The baby is dressed in white.

The "Shodo" or "name plaque" includes baby's name written in Kanji characters on special Japanese paper. The "Shodo" is kept hung on the wall.

Shodo or name plaque

Names given to baby girls in Japan often express some virtues. For example, there are names like Kiyiko ("clean child"), Nayako ("obedient child"), or Yoshiko ("good child"). The "ko" at the end of female names means "child".

Male names often show the position of child in the family. Ichiro means "first son", Jiro means "second son" and Saburo means "third son" where "ro" means son.

People in India have a naming ceremony called "Namakaran" or "The Naamkaran Sanskar" (naming ceremony). It is held at least 10 days after the birth. It must be performed before child's first birthday. It differs from region to region.

Namakaran in Bangalore, India (photo by Deeps)

Here is an example from the Indian state of Maharashtra in the west of the country. A baby lays in the cradle decorated with flower garlands. Women gather around the cradle and sing hymns.

The mother and grandmother will then enter the room. They will bring a lit silver lamp and a small gold jewel for the baby. The baby is blessed with some rice and a small dot of vermilion is put on baby's forehead. Blessings are repeated again and the mother whispers gods' names and baby's name in her or his ear. The name is then announced to others.

The Hindu people have several rules when naming a baby. These rules are known as the "Samskara". Samskaras in a life of every Hindu are "Punsavana" (fetus protection), "Jatakarma" (child birth), "Namakarna" (naming of the baby) and "Annaprasana" (feeding the baby with solid food).

India has a Hindu caste system where there are the Brahmins (the upper class), the Kshatriyas (the warriors), the Vaisyas (merchants and farmer class) and the Shudra (the slave caste). The name given to a baby depends on the caste baby's family belongs to.

In India parents often consult horoscope to see in what kind of personality their baby will develop. They believe that this will help them to choose the name for the baby that has a meaning corresponding with baby's birth star or "Janma Nakshatram" ("Janma Naal").

According to Vedic astrology there are 27 janma nakshatrams. They are Aswathi, Bharani, Kaarthika, Rohini, Makeeram, Thiruvathira, Punartham, Pooyam, Aayilyam, Makam, Pooram, Uthram, Atham, Chithra, Chothi, Visaakham, Anizham, Thrikketta, Moolam, Pooraatam, Uthraatam, Thiruvonam, Avittam, Chathayam, Poororuttaathi, Uthrattaathi and Revathi.

It is believed that each Janma Nakshatram has unique characteristic and it influences person's character and future.

The Monpa (Menba, Moinba) people live in the Indian state Arunachal Pradesh, Tibet and Bhutan. Three days after baby's birth a lama arrives to the house. The family tells lama the time and date when the baby was born. It is important for the lama. He can trace the baby's origin. The baby can be from heaven or dragon's empire. There is also possibility that the baby is the reincarnation of certain animal - a pig, dog, cow or snake.

Depending on the day of birth the Monpa baby gets different name. Here is an example. If the baby boy wa born on Sunday then he'll be named Ni Ma. The baby girl born on Sunday gets one of these names - Ni Ma Cuo Mu, Ni Ma Zhuo Ma or Ni Ma Qu Zhen.

Either maternal or paternal grandmother is very important in the next stage of the ceremony. Together with lama she carries the baby out of the house. The lama brings several things - a burning firewood, a bowl of water, an iron tool used by farmers and little bit of soil.

He walks around the house in clockwise direction three times and then throws the mentioned objects away. This act means the flesh is borrowed from the soil, the blood is borrowed from the water, the breath from the fire, the bone from the iron and the heart is borrowed from the sky.

Finally, a person arrives from the house carrying a peacock made of corn flower. He comes to the baby and bows several times. That way the baby will grow healthy and free from evil spirits.

Muslims believe that a child should get name on her or his birthday or on "Aqeeqah". The Aqeeqah is organized seven days after baby's birth. Two goats or sheep are sacrificed for a boy and one for a girl. Baby's head is shaved and covered with some saffron.

Muslim people mainly choose names that include certain virtue and honour prophets. It is believed that such a name will somehow encourage person to lead a righteous life and it will bring blessings to her or his life.

Jews have both Hebrew and secular name. Baby boy gets his Hebrew name at his "Bris" which is held eight days after his birth. Then he is also circumcised by a specialist called "Mohel". The act of circumcision is called "Brith milah" or "Brit Milà".

Brith milah or Brit Milà
Brith milah - traditonal act of circumcision

Jewish baby girl is named at the ceremony held 8-15 days after her birth. The Torah is read in public. The special "Mi Sheberach" blessing is said. There is a prayer for mother's health and that the girl will become good, honest person. Jewish people believe that a person should be named after some righteous man or woman. The person will somehow inherit his or her characteristics.

Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews traditionally name their babies after beloved dead relatives. On the other side the Sephardic Jews rather choose a name of someone dear who is still alive.

Yoruba people are one of the largest ethnic groups of the West Africa. Almost all of 30 million Yoruba people live in Nigeria. Other Yoruba communities exist in Benin, Ghana, Togo, but also in the United States and United Kingdom.

The Yoruba give their babies an "oruku" name. The oruku name kind of describes the day of baby's birth. Let's take for example a male name Abegunde. It means "born during a holiday". There is a female name Beijide or "a child born in the rainy period".

If for example an elderly woman in certain community died just before the birth of a baby girl then the girl will be called Yetunde or "the mother has come back". If the death of an elderly man happened not long before the birth of a baby boy then he will be called Babatunde or "father has come back".

Later in life Yoruba people get an "oriki" or praise name. Such a name include hopes for the future. For example, name Dunsimi means "do not die before me". There is a name Titilayo or "an eternal happiness".

With her or his birth Maasai baby gets a temporary name or “embolet” (“opening”). The real naming ceremony is sometimes held three years after the birth. Everything depends on the clan family belongs to.

The naming ceremony is called “Enkipukonoto Eaji” or “coming out of the seclusion period”. Until the ceremony mother and baby stay in seclusion and let their hair grow long.

Preparations for the naming ceremony last for two days. At the beginning of naming ceremony both of their heads are shaven. Mother and child get sponsors who act as their assistants during the ceremony. These sponsors are from the same age group as mother and child. They will remain closely related in their future lives.

Members of the community then choose two male sheep. One is slaughtered and eaten on the first day of the ceremony and the other one on the second day. Only women eat meat of these sheep. This is done to show respect for the pain woman suffered during giving birth to her child. Women also eat this meat to thank Engai (God) for being able to bear children.

The mother puts the “olkererreti” on the child's right hand. The bracelet is made by using the right leg of one of the sheep.

The mother drinks water collected from a river using calabash. Calabash is a traditional Maasai gourd. After eating of meat and drinking of water mother's sponsor declares the start of the naming ceremony.

Other women arrive and check the child's embolet. Then they decide what name the child should get. The name of the child depends on her or his personality. If many people think that temporary name is nice it can become permanent one.

The women bless the child and the new permanent name or “enkarna enchorio”. They do it by saying "May that name live in you". The mother then removes the bracelet. This act ends the naming ceremony.

The mother and child are given one more honour. During the naming ceremony they are the only one who can open and close the gate to the “kraal”. Kraal is a basic social unit in the Maasai society. It includes several families. 20-50 kraals make a village.

Babies born in Swahili-speaking communities of Kenya first get "birth" name or the "jina la utotoni". This name is usually given by an elder relative. This name describes child's appearance. Biubwa, for example, means "soft and smooth, baby-like". Haidar is a common male name and it means "the one who looks strong".

About 40 days after birth baby gets an adult name or the "jina la ukubwani". It is decided by parents or paternal grandparents.

Sierra Leona is the country in the west Africa. People there believe that a baby should be named when the umbilical cord has dropped off. Until then, they say that the baby does not have her or his identity.

During the ceremony baby's hair is shaved off. The paternal aunt then chews kola nut and pepper. She gives them to the baby. This act symbolizes wishes for a long life.

In Egypt they have a special ceremony called the "Sebooh". It is held on the seventh day of baby's life. The baby is dressed in white and put in a cradle. The parents will slowly rock the cradle. This symbolically learns the baby about the movements, changes in life. Guests chant and sing. Everyone is in good mood.

The white cloth is put on the floor. The baby is then placed on the cloth. People gather around the baby. Some grains, as symbols of Earth's abundance, are scattered around the baby. Baby gets some presents. The baby's mother then sidestep the baby's body seven times to send away evil spirits. More "fight" with evil spirits is done by laying a knife across baby's body by the mother.

The ceremony ends with a procession throughout the home led by the mother carrying the baby. There is also a person who shakes an incense burner which releases cleansing scents. Children with lit candles participate in the procession too.

In Turkey some babies get their names according to the time when the baby was born. Examples of such names are Bayram (Feast), Safak (Dawn), Bahar (Spring) etc. Events during the birth can be a reason to name the baby. Such names are Yagmur (Rain) or Tufan (Storm). The reasons for naming the baby can be of personal nature. Let's say that for example the parents do not want babies anymore. Then they name the baby as Yeter (Enough).

When the name has been selected Imam or elder family member holds the baby in the direction of Mecca and performs the next ritual. He reads from Qur'an in the baby's left ear. Then he repeats the name of the baby three times in her or his right ear.

In parts of Turkey people usually plant a tree for the newborn baby. Chestnut, mulberry or apple tree is planted for baby girl. Poplar or pine tree is planted for baby boy.

In Latvia baby gets her or his name nine days after the birth. The ceremony is held in the family home and lasts for two days. Baby boys in Latvia have two godfathers and one godmother. Baby girls have two godmothers and one godfather.

Godparents are usually family cousins. Parents should be careful when choosing godparents as it is believed that the baby inherits his or her qualities. The godparents also choose the name of the baby.

In Ireland there are several traditions when naming a baby. First one has to do with the number of children the couple has. The oldest son is named after the father's father, the second son after the mother's father, the third son after the father and the fourth son after the father's oldest brother.

It is similar with girls. The oldest daughter is named after the mother's mother, the second daughter after the father's mother, the third daughter after the mother, and the fourth daughter after the mother's oldest sister.

Some of Irish names are given according to baby's appearance. Here are several examples. Ciara means “dark” or “black”, Fiona means “fair”, and Rowan means “red-haired”.

Certainly it should not be forgotten to mention the fact that many Irish babies are named after the most famous of Irish saints which is Saint Patrick.