Baby Naming Traditions around the World
In Japan, on the “Oshichiya” (baby’s seventh day), family and friends congregate for a celebratory feast. Traditionally, the baby may be clothed exclusively in white, and an elegant “Shodo” (name plaque) with the child’s name eloquently inscribed in Japanese characters on a special Japanese paper is hung on the wall. The festivities continue with laughter and eating—certainly a pleasurable celebration for new parents and a visual (albeit, fuzzy) welcome to the world for their new baby.
There are many variations of the “Namakarena” naming ceremony in India. In the state of Maharashtra, you will walk in on a beautiful image of a baby in the cradle, decorated with flower garlands and surrounded by women singing hymns and gently rocking the cradle. The mother or a grandmother will then enter the room with a lit silver lamp and a small gold jewel for the child. Afterwards, the baby is blessed with rice and a small dot of vermilion is placed on her forehead. Blessings are once again said, and the ceremony ends with the mother whispering the gods’ names and then whispering the child’s name in her ear. Finally, the name is announced to the guests.
Buddhists have their own Namkaram within the first three months of life or when it’s thought that the baby can hear. During the event, a mother writes the baby’s name on a banana leaf, which is then covered with handfuls of uncooked rice. The mother lays the baby on the banana leaf and whispers the child’s name three times in his ear, after which the other relatives and guests do the same. A frequent practice among Hindus is to name their children after sages, saints, holy persons, deities, and the names of the incarnation of God. It is believed that by repeatedly calling such names, one is reminded of God.
Out of Africa
In many regions of Africa, naming ceremonies are extensive and elaborate, with special prayers recited by an appointed religious teacher. Usually, animals are sacrificed during these proceedings. Africans mostly choose names that denote the time (“Abena”—born on Thursday), something that represents the times (“Iniko”—born during troubled times), a physical characteristic (“Hassain”—handsome), or possibly the child’s position within the family (“Delu”—the only girl).
If you are an Egyptian, you may learn of a special naming ceremony called the “Sebooh,” held on the child’s seventh day of life. As a guest of this event, you will find the baby dressed in white and placed in a sieve. The parents will slowly rock the sieve to symbolize acquainting their child with the motions of life. Guests chant, sing, and laugh as the child is placed on a white cloth on the floor with everyone surrounding her and scattering grains around her—symbolic of the earth’s bounty. At this time, gifts are presented to the infant. The baby’s mother may then sidestep the baby’s body seven times to ward off evil spirits. Everyone’s focus is on the mother’s motions, as a knife is momentarily laid across the baby’s body to ward off more evil spirits. The ceremony ends with the lighting of candles, which are given to attending children to bear in a procession led by the mother, who is carrying the baby throughout the home. She is followed by the incense bearer shaking a lantern-like incense burner releasing cleansing scents. This time-honored custom dates back to the Pharaohs but is still used throughout Egypt in Christian and Muslim homes alike.
Creating Traditions Today
It is a strong human force to mark life’s mileposts through ceremony or festivity. Good decisions and achievements should be celebrated, and surely, you’re reaching far and wide to find the perfect baby name, so certainly a celebration of the naming of your child is in order! This is especially true since for most American parents today, the closest thing to a name tradition is a mailed birth announcement.
While we hope these customs throughout history and around the world have inspired you to add more names to your list, you may also want to consider creating a naming tradition within your own family!
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