Baby Naming Traditions around the World
African Americans have their own unique naming history and culture. In the days of slavery, a slave owner often renamed his slaves something not generally used by whites; Greek mythology names were commonly used (Daphne, Apollo, Nessus, or Diana) or a slave’s full name was converted into a diminutive cognate of another white-owned name (Tom, Cas, Lil, Bo). Slave owners also granted biblical names in their attempts to convert slaves to Christianity; however, in an attempt to preserve their heritage, slaves often gave their children ethnically based names, which they used secretly in their communities. It wasn’t until the Civil War that most African Americans had complete control in naming their children; with newfound freedom, slaves immediately bestowed previously prohibited names on their children (Moses, Abraham) and also changed their shortened names to the formal versions (Thomas, Cassandra, Lillian, and Robert).
African Americans also adopted the style of creating unique names, which took off even further during the 1960s as individual names, distinct from the white community, surfaced. Traditionalism and pride inspired them to look to their Muslim and African roots, to names like Muhammad, Hassan, and Ali for boys, and Shawana, Naajila, and Malaika for girls.
Similarly, Utah Mormons are known to create unique or uncommon names in a variety of ways, often combining parents’ or grandparents’ first names. So, Lewis and Amanda might result in Le’Anda. They also appreciate extremely unusual spelling variations, such as Kellee, Katlynn, Leee, and Alysoon. Could it be the Mormons that started the surname as first name trend? It seems they’ve been doing this for decades; we found Bowden, Doerr, and Rainey amongst surnames used for males. Mormons also love French sound prefixes (“La” or “De”) and wouldn’t hesitate to completely concoct a name: LaJune or DeBekka. Certainly, a Mormon name shouts “I’m from Utah!”
Following tradition, Muslim parents may name their child on his or her birthday or at an “Aqeeqah.” Held on the seventh day after baby’s birth, this ceremony entails a sacrifice of a goat or sheep (two for a boy, one for a girl). The infant’s head is then shaved and covered with saffron. It is important to Muslims to give their child a good name, determined by its meanings, which should be beautiful.
A Jewish boy is given his Hebrew (as opposed to his secular) name at his “Bris” eight days after his birth, at which time he is also circumcised by a trusted Mohel. A Jewish baby girl receives a naming ceremony eight to fifteen days after birth that includes a public reading of the Torah. During the reading, the special “Mi Sheberach” blessing is said. The blessing begins with a prayer for the mother’s health and continues with the giving of the baby’s name—and a prayer that this new daughter should grow to be a wise and understanding person of goodness. Jewish people believe that you should name an infant after someone who was righteous in hopes that the child will emulate that person. The Eastern European, Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazic tradition is to name after a beloved departed relative, while the Sephardic Jews may name their offspring after a living person.
What do a name and an egg have to do with each other? If you’re in China, you might be invited to a “Red Egg and Ginger” baby naming party—a celebration held after baby’s first month of life. The egg, considered a delicacy in ancient China, represents fertility and is dyed the color red for good luck. At the ceremonial feast, the baby’s hair is shaved and gifts are presented to the new life. Today, modern Chinese families use brightly colored eggs as party favors at their adapted ceremonies.
Superstitious as they are, the Chinese wouldn’t dare name a child before he is born! Instead they will give him a fake or “milk” name—something very undesirable, such as “mud face” or “excrement,” that is meant to disgust evil spirits and trick them to stay away from the child. These names may stay with children throughout childhood. On the heels of the many childbirth practices they follow, the Chinese believe that each child is unique and should carry an individual moniker; however, this is becoming increasingly difficult for them to follow as the most populous country in the world.
YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN