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Child naming traditions

By Calvin Odhiambo | October 13th 2013

By Calvin Odhiambo

Throughout the ages, naming of newborns has been one of the most important decisions parents have had to make. A person’s name, after all,  can have an enormous impact on their life.

World cultures have different ways of naming children, some of which are quite interesting to say the least.

One of the most interesting was that of opening of religious books, especially the Bible, and pointing. The word on which the finger landed automatically became the  newborn’s name. It was not without defect, considering that sometimes the hand would land on words like ‘needy’ or ‘barren,’ but ingenious folk beat this by opting to use the name of the particular book they had landed in.

There are communities that had special plants in their surroundings that had medicinal or spiritual values. They, therefore, named their children after these plants to appreciate their value and also as a form of offering to their gods.

Likewise, rivers and streams that were in most cases lifelines of early communities were honoured by having newborns adopt their names. This tradition extended to animals or birds, depending on the characteristics the parents wanted the children to adopt.

The most common ones were those associated with animals that have positive attributes like lion, eagle and dove. Another popular trend in naming was the adoption of names of basic elements of nature like the sun, moon and stars, and also after their accompanying gods and goddesses.

African Americans, most of who were slaves, were not allowed to name their children; the slave owners did it. Some received new names on the ship that brought them from Africa. Most parents, however, named their children in secret to protect their family interests.

In Hawaii, people believed that an ancestral god would give the child a name by sending a sign in a vision or a dream. If that name was not adopted, the child would be cursed, usually by being handicapped.

Mexicans and other Hispanic countries, on the other hand, were predominantly Catholic and most children would be named after saints.

It is the Puritans, a significant grouping of English protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries, who had the most interesting child naming ways. They employed names after desirable virtues like joy or hope.

They also went as far as using phrases as names. Examples were ‘Fight-the-good-fight-of-faith’, ‘Sorry-for-sin’ and  ‘If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned.’ These names were used for both sexes.

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