African Baby Names
From the time of the ancient Egyptians, children were considered a blessing. Already they were referred to as today’s Arabic version of staff, amoud el aagazah, meaning the staff of old age that parents can lean on when they, in turn, need support.
Marie Parsons, an ardent student of Egyptian archeology, ancient history and its religion, speaks of the manner in which children were valued in ancient Egypt. In her article, “Childbirth and Children in Ancient Egypt,” she states: “Children had value in ancient Egypt. The Greeks, who were accustomed to leaving infants exposed to the elements, were stunned to observe that every baby born to Egyptian families was cared for and raised.”
“…As in all areas of daily life, the gods of Egypt were connected to the birth process. The creator-god Khnum gave health to the newborn after birth. Women would place two small statues for the gods Bes and Taweret. The dwarf-god Bes was supposed to vanquish any evil things hovering around the mother and baby.”
“…The Goddess Taweret, often carrying a magic knife or the knot of Isis, was the chief deity of women in pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
When it came to naming their babies, again the Egyptians relied on the influence of their gods. Says Ms. Parsons, “Most parents liked to place their children under the sponsorship of some deity, so there were children named Hori and others named Seti, and others named Ameni, that is, dedicated to Horus, to Set, and to Amun. Names could signify the god’s pleasure, perhaps explaining why there were so many Amenhoteps, Khnumhoteps and Ptahhoteps, which signifies that the god was in front of, or the father of the child, as in the name Amenemhat.”
After an infant’s birth, the parents would enter the name in the registers of the House of Life.
In contemporary Egypt, a naming ceremony, Sebooh, whose roots may possibly be traced to the times of the Pharaohs, takes place on the seventh day of life. Celebrated by Moslems and Christians alike, this tradition involves the extended family members and friends. The baby is clothed in a white robe and the name is sometimes chosen by assigning different names to several candles, lighting them at the onset of the ceremony, then naming the child after the candle which burns the longest.
The mom places the baby in a large sieve, and gently shakes him, to help him become accustomed to the vagaries of life. Then the infant is laid on a blanket on the floor, with a knife placed along his chest to ward off evil spirits, while the guests scatter grains, gold and gifts around him, all being symbols of the plentiful abundance wished on the child. The mother side-steps seven times over the baby’s body, again to ward off evil spirits, while incantations are chanted by the attendants for the child to listen to what his mother says, and always obey her. A procession of lights and incense follows. The mother carrying her baby leads the procession, followed by the singing children and guests, all bearing candles and incense to bless the house and its occupants. Then comes the feast!
Why are traditions so universal, so enduring across generations, with their unique ability to transcend time and space?
Perhaps because they are the very substance that weaves the thread, binding us into something larger than ourselves, towards which all of humanity gravitates. They symbolize our perpetual quest for continuity, for immortality, for the “now and forever” that we aspire to, and that most religions profess.
Although traditions center around the mundane fare of food and gatherings, their core is the thimble-full of things we do, to hint at the ocean that is human love.
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