30.12.11

Names and Naming, p2

2. To Give A Name

Western cultures hardly ever have a special event to mark the giving of a name, except when a saint's name is given during Christening, in the Catholic tradition. Other cultures grant more importance to names – to the Delaware one's true name is a sacred gift, and only visionary name-givers can give it. Shawnee name-givers ponder a name during a night wake and each of them offers a name to the parents, so they have two choices for their child.

In Hawaii it is the whole family that participates in the name giving. It is usually based on special events or people or places, but it can come "from heaven": in a dream, through a sign or a voice. In Samoa, the parents don't name their offspring: the grandparents handle this at a family gathering. This reflects an ideology where the grandparents are considered better suited to raise children than the latter's young parents.

The midwife gives Akan children akeradini-name at birth, based on a day of the week. The second part is chosen by their father and given on the 7th morning after the birth.
The people of the Truk island make no ceremony about naming a child, but the name itself is carefully chosen. It is a specialist name (each clan is specialized in something such as sailing or war) chosen by the members of the mother's clan, and expressing what the child is to become. The child can pick another one later on.

In cultures that take names' meanings into consideration, the names are based on events surrounding birth, people, sacred places, and animals. However, Christians are doing the same when they name a child after a saint or a feast that happened around the day of birth (like in Spain AnunciaciĆ³n, AsunciĆ³n), and so are Muslims (Ramadan, Ashur). Muslims may not have "saints" per se, but naming children after religious figures occurs as commonly as in any other religion.

Christians may hesitate to name their children Jesus (although Hispanic societies have no qualms about it), but Muslims have no problem with his name (Issa to them) or Muhammad's – which, if we count its many derivatives, is the most overwhelmingly popular name on the planet. While Hawai'ians would never do such a thing as give the unchanged name of a god to a child , orthodox Hindus directly name their children for incarnations of divine beings. Sometimes their second name has the meaning of "spouse" or "offspring" to create a close relationship between it and the deity. These god-names can be replaced by names of holy places or planets and signs. Sometimes, the two names are that of a goddess and her spouse, always in this order.

Many names evoke the qualities or beauty that the parents hope to see develop in the child. The Japanese give their child a balancing name: if it's too noisy, a name evoking calm, if it eats too much, one that evokes moderation. The Delaware do the total opposite -- they never try to use names to change their children.

Often a name is ordinal (reflecting the order of birth), and even more often it is determined by the day of birth, whether on a weekly or monthly cycle. Burma has a very interesting custom; the first letter of the name is determined by the day on which the baby is born. Some days are believed incompatible, so that people born on them cannot get married for fear of an unhappy marriage, and you'll never find a K husband with an H wife. I suspect this custom to have been designed as a way of instantly knowing if a person is compatible with you or not. Similarly, the Koreans shy away from people bearing the same family name – marriage can absolutely not occur between them, which can be problematic in the case of Kim and Park: these two last names make up over half of the population.

In Europe and many African countries, alliterations (Milly and Mary, Robert and Herbert) are a favorite way of marking the birth of twins. Twins get special names in Sesotho. Other special cases in this country are a daughter that comes after many sons, or a son after many daughters. The ideal family being half boys and half girls, a girl arrived at long last is called Ntzwaki (the mixer), a boy Modise (herdsman) or Mojafela (inheritor). Special names among the Yoruba reflect unusual births or the reincarnation of a deceased family member.

In some countries first sons form a "line" of alternating names, as each of them is named after their father's father. Sometimes there is not even an alternation and all first sons bear the same name. This transmission of name is probably the same mechanism that turned family names into what they are now, from the nicknames they used to be. In Greece, the first son is almost always named after the father's father, and the second after the mother's father; the same thing occurs with daughters and their grandmothers. This contrasts greatly with cultures who refuse to grant names of deceased relatives, or even living ones, or even a used name at all.