What’s in a name ?

Carrying the weight of history, heritage, and hopes, choosing a name can seem fraught with difficulties.

All cultures place huge significance on the act of baby naming, and in many traditions, naming is itself a spiritual act. In creation stories from Christian to Hindu, and Aboriginal to Native American traditions, the world comes into being only when the unique name of an object is uttered out loud.

The divine syllable “om” was the first sound and brought everything in the universe to life, say the Hindu scriptures. Aboriginal creation myths tell of birds, plants, animals, and rocks springing into being from nothingness as their names are sung.

In the Pueblo tradition, the mythical figure, Thought Woman, imagines everything in the universe, but nothing exists until she gives each object its name. A name empowers us with identity and connects past, present, and future.
So which name will you choose? Maybe you will dip into your hereditary pool, rich with references formulated over generations. In parts of Ghana, to bestow the name of lost loved ones brings those ancestors back to life, sowing the seeds of their attributes in a new tiny being.

In other places, family names reveal a child’s background: his line of descent, social standing, and family position. Balinese tradition locks a child’s gender, caste, clan, and birth order into four names before giving a fifth “personal” name.

 Despite having an intensely personal meaning, a name is  a very public thing.

Grandparents and grandchildren are often yoked together by a name; for example, in England it has been common since the 1700s to name a first son after his father’s father and a second son after his mother’s father. The Edu people in Nigeria honor grandfathers and great-grandfathers by having them officiate at naming ceremonies or choose the name.

Elsewhere, too, the choice of name is out of parents’ hands. Sikh families attend a ceremony at their gurdwara where a page is picked at random from the holy book as a prayer is said. The first letter of the first word on the left-hand page gives the first letter of the baby’s name.

parent waves : naming

In China, each of the five elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth, are represented in a name by a character or a word with the qualities of that element.

In many cultures, a name is thought to influence a child’s future life chances, behavior, and accomplishments. In China, the number of strokes in a written name is said to determine the child’s fate. While in early New England, virtues were handed to daughters—Patience, Prudence, Charity—and in Victorian Britain, names of illustrious or noble people were popular, hence the many Victorias, Alberts, and Clives.

Auspicious names with an amuletic quality, such as Lucky, that augur well and offer protection from ill-wishers are common in parts of Africa. Sometimes they deflect evil by invoking laughter. For Islamic parents, a name is a thing of beauty, denoting an honorable quality, innate goodness, or devotion to God.
Jameela, for example, means “good character” and “beautiful.” Christians might choose the name of a saint for whom they feel an affinity or whose feast day is near the birth.
The Yoruba people believe each name has a spirit that lives through a child regardless of his nature. This chimes with parents who wait before giving a name until a child shows him-or herself—through looks, demeanor, or spirit—to be a Ruby, Rufus, or an Apple.

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