Baby Naming Traditions Around the Globe
By Abigail Cukier
As we all know, choosing a name for your baby can be a daunting task. Many factors come into play – trends, tastes, opinions from relatives. But parents are also often guided by religious or cultural traditions. Here are some naming customs from around the world.
Personally, when naming my own children, we had to be careful not to choose anything too similar to that of a loved one, because for Ashkenazi Jews this goes against tradition. We usually name a baby after a deceased relative. Some will use the full name, while others use just the first letter. For example, I am named after my grandfather, Arthur.
This is to honour loved ones who have died but also to a superstition. The old belief was that there might be a mix-up and the angel of death might take the baby instead of the older relative.
On the other hand, among Sephardic Jews, who originated in Spain or Portugal, it is actually an honour to name a child after a parent or living relative.
Babies usually receive an English and a Hebrew name. Some parents translate the child’s secular name while others choose a separate Hebrew name.
A boy is named on the eighth day after the birth during the bris (ritual circumcision). Loved ones have the honour of carrying the baby and often the grandfather holds him during the ceremony. A girl is named in the synagogue, where the father reads from the Torah (Bible) and the baby and mom are blessed.
A Chinese name has three characters and the first character is the last name. For example, if the father’s last name is Leung, the first character of the child’s name is Leung. Siblings usually share the second character. A child with an English name usually has the Chinese characters as his middle name.
In Islam, babies are most often named after someone of importance in the religion, such as a prophet or messenger. You will often see Muslims with the Arabic names of such significant individuals as Muhammad, Ibrahim (Abraham), Isa (Jesus), Musa (Moses), Fatima (a daughter of Muhammad) or Aisha (a wife of Muhammad).
While there is no compulsory naming ceremony in Islam, it is customary for the child to be named on the seventh day after birth, along with the Aqeeqah, which is a celebration where family and friends thank God for the child’s birth.
Italians usually name their children after their grandparents. That is why you’ll often find “a million Valentinos or Giulios” in one family, says my friend Patricia Tomasi, an Italian-Canadian. She says her in-laws have recycled those names for generations. Babies are also likely to have several middle names to honour requests from both sides of the family.
Naming traditions in Kenya often reflect the time of day, day of the week, the weather and the child’s position in the family.
In the Marigoli tribe, the oldest member of the family performs the naming ceremony. The first-born male is named after the paternal grandfather, while the first-born female is named after the paternal grandmother. After that, it moves to the mother’s family. That person is influential in the child’s life, teaching them values and morals.
In the Hindu religion, the naming ceremony is usually held after the first 10 days of a baby’s delivery. Mother and child are bathed traditionally and prepared for the ceremony. A priest, relatives and friends are invited to bless the child.
The mother wets the baby’s head as a symbol of purification. In some communities, the baby is handed over to the paternal grandmother or father who sits near the priest during the ritual.
A letter of the Sanskrit alphabet associated with the child’s lunar birth sign is chosen, which is believed to be lucky for the baby. The baby receives a name starting with that letter.
A child can be named after the deity of the month in which they were born or the name of the family deity. Some communities name the first child after the paternal grandparent or the father.
Usually, the father whispers the name four times in the right ear of the baby. After the naming, the relatives put a few drops of honey or a pinch of sugar to the baby’s lips.
In Japan, on the baby’s seventh day, family and friends hold a celebratory feast. Japanese girls are usually given names relating to virtues, like being obedient or good. The “ko” often found at the end of girls’ names is a feminine ending and means child. Boys’ names often reflect their position within the family. For example Ichiro means “first son.” Japanese people also put their family name in front of their given name
In Guatemala, about 65 per cent of the population is Mayan. When a Mayan child is born, he is taken to a community elder who consults the Mayan calendar of 260 days. This calendar combines a cycle of 20 named days with another cycle of 13 numbers to produce 260 unique days. The elder considers the energy of the year and of the day. A boy’s name is preceded by the number of the day he is born in and a girl has IX, which means woman or feminine energy.