No-one EVER Lets Me Name Their Baby ‘Murgatroyd’. [I don’t know why]

Parents often ask me if I’ll ‘name their baby’. But they never really mean it. Not even once have they let me pick the name. [I’m kidding, of course].

I’m in two minds about whether I could better the example of Frank Zappa, who named his children Dweezil, Moon Unit and Diva Thin Muffin!

A naming ceremony falls pretty much under the umbrella of  ‘a non-religious christening’ – which leaves a huge scope for innovation and creating new traditions to fit modern families. I’ve been researching baby naming traditions for a cross-cultural ceremony I have coming up, and discovered some beautiful traditions associated with the welcoming of a child into a family, and into that family’s wider community. I don’t think there is a culture in the whole round world in which the arrival of a new child is not celebrated in some form, and in particular, the choosing and formal giving of the child’s name is taken extremely seriously.

Timing is often important, from cultures where the first sound a new-born baby hears is their father whispering the name of their god, to traditions in which a baby doesn’t get a ‘real’ name until they have survived those precarious early weeks and months of life. Or, in the case of the Kayapo of Brazil, until the parents figure out which name is the right one. Apparently, if the child is otherwise fed and warm but still crying, the baby is understood to be telling the parents that the name is not right. Another name will be tried, until they find one that meets with the child’s approval. This can take up to five months [or, as my cynical self suggests, until the colic stage passes] at which point, the baby becomes more contented, and the name becomes permanent.

In southern Nigeria, a child will be given three names – one from the mother, the father and another relative. These names are: one name, by which they are known, another name that reflects a hope for who the child will become , or a character quality they are hoped to have. The third name will be a family name, an ancestor or  perhaps the name of a hero or god.

The traditions which include the wider family are very special, from having a grandparent be the first to address the child by name, usually directly into the child’s ear, to having all the women grasp the edges of the baby’s blanket like a hammock,  to rock and sing songs of blessing and hope, or songs that rhyme with the baby’s new name. [Probably NOT: Hannah, Hanna, Bo, Banna, Banana, Fanna, Foe, Fannah, Mee, Mie, Moe, Manna, Hannah!]

Sometimes the naming is also the time of the child’s first taste of food, especially a sweet taste, like honey or sugar, or ‘good luck’ herbs and spices, with maybe a little gold mixed in. It may be the first time a child sets foot on the ground, having been carried everywhere until that moment, or the occasion of their first hair cut, or piercing.

With such a vast pool of tradition to draw from, I’m always delighted to be asked to name a couple’s child, even if they don’t let me PICK the name, I love teasing out the details for each particular family, creating new traditions on the foundations of historical ceremonies, and best of all, celebrating that a child is loved, cherished, welcome, and has great hope for the future. Even if they must have a name that’s not Murgatroyd…

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