A naming ceremony is the event at which an infant, a youth, or an adult is given a name or names. The timing can vary from mere days after birth to several months or many years afterwards. Some of these ceremonies have religious or cultural significance.
Naming ceremonies in various religions and cultures
Naming a child is usually through the baptism ceremony in Christian culture. Though this is true for majority of the Christian population, the traditions of the land they were born might differ. As such in Kerala, the traditional Hindu custom of tying an aranjanam is followed even in Christian families.
Naming a baby is considered to be sacred and therefore is an important Hindu tradition. It involves the immediate families and also close relatives and friends. Traditionally known as Namkaran or Namakarana Sanskar, this ceremony is conducted in an elaborate form on the 11th day after birth.
The Namakarma Sanskar is usually held after first 11 nights of a baby's delivery. These 11 post-natal days are considered inauspicious and the mother and child are considered to be unclean. Traditionally mother and child are separated from the rest of the family during these 10 days where no one except a helper is allowed to touch the baby or the mother. All festivals and events in the family and extended family are postponed by 11 nights. After those 11 nights, the house is cleaned and sanctified for the ceremony. The mother and child are bathed traditionally and are prepared for the ceremony. This is most likely to avoid infecting baby or mother and allowing mother some time to recover after delivery. Relatives and close friends are invited to be a part of this occasion and bless the child. Priests are called and an elaborate ritual takes place.
The people involved in the baby naming ceremony are the parents of the newborn, the paternal and maternal grandparents and few close relatives and friends. In Maharashtra, Bengal, and amongst the Rajputs of Gujarat the paternal aunt has the honour of naming her brother's child. The child is dressed in new clothes and the mother wets the head of the baby with drops of water as a symbol of purifying the child. In some communities, the baby is then handed over to the paternal grandmother or the father who sits near the priest during the ritual. Where the paternal aunt names the child, she whispers the new born his or her name in the ear and then announces it to the gathered family and friends. In some Communities or families, the sacred fire is lighted and the priest chants sacred hymns to invoke the Gods in the heaven to bless the child.
In Kerala, a black thread and gold chain called an aranjanam are tied around the baby's waist on the 28th day. In certain parts of the state, it is performed on the 27th if it is a baby boy. The child's eyes are lined with mayye or kanmashi (Kohl). A black spot is placed on one cheek or asymmetrically on the forehead, to ward off the evil eyes. The father whispers the chosen Hindu name in the child's right ear three times while the left ear is covered with a betel leaf. This is then repeated with the left ear. A mixture of ghee (melted and clarified butter) and honey is given to the infant as a base for its various foods in the future.
According to the date and time of birth of the child, a particular letter of the Sanskrit alphabet associated with the child's solar birth sign (soorya Rashi) is chosen which would prove lucky for the baby. The baby is then given a name starting with that letter. Usually the father whispers the name four times in the right ear of the baby. In Maharashtra, this is performed by the paternal aunt. The baby receives blessings from all, including the priests. An elaborate feast is organized for the priests and the guests, as a closing event of the ceremony.
The Namakaran Sanskar is also performed on adult converts to Hinduism to mark their formal entrance into Hinduism. The convert chooses a Hindu name to declare his allegiance to Hinduism and his severance from his former religion. A Vedic fire sacrifice is then performed and the convert writes his new name in a tray of uncooked rice.
In Maharashtra, traditionally women changed their birth-name upon marriage. The new name was selected by the husband to complement his own name. For example, a groom named Vishnu would change his brides name to Laxmi, the mythological consort of Vishnu, Ramchandra would change his bride's name to Sita and so on. Usually the husband writes the new name in a plate filled with dry uncooked rice grains.
Some secular humanists perform a naming ceremony as a non-religious alternative to ceremonies such as christening. The purpose is to recognise and celebrate the arrival of a child and welcome him or her in the family and circle of friends. The structure often reflects that of more traditional naming ceremonies, with a formal ceremony led by a humanist celebrant in which the parents name 'guide parents', 'mentors' or 'supporting adults' instead of godparents. This is often followed by a celebratory party.
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In Islam, the baby is named on the seventh day by the mother and father who make a decision together on what the child should be called. They choose an appropriate name, usually Islamic, and with a positive meaning. Aqiqah takes place on the seventh day also, this is a celebration which involves the slaughter of sheep. Sheep are sacrificed and the meat is distributed to relatives and neighbours and given to the poor. If the father does not have enough funds, he may do it anytime in the future as long as it is done in general.
In the Jewish tradition, baby boys are named at a brit milah on the eighth day after their birth. Girls are named within the first two weeks. Common Ashkenazi custom maintains that girls should be named when the father is called up to the Torah on a Torah reading day closest or close to when the girl is born, although practice often has baby girls named at the Torah reading on the first Shabbat following birth. A resurgence in recent generations of the less popular simchat bat ceremony for naming baby girls has recently taken hold in many modern Orthodox Ashkenazi communities.
In Wiccan religion, at the initiation (or dedication) ritual, initiates take a Wiccan Name (Craft Name). This name is not used in public, but only among other Wiccans in religious gatherings. Some Wiccan authors use their Wiccan name on their books, such as Silver RavenWolf. For a Wiccan, taking a Wiccan name symbolizes a rebirth.
- Singh, K.S. (2003). Gujarat, part 3. Popular Prakashan Limited. p. 1176. ISBN 81-7991-106-3.
- "Organising a naming ceremony". BabyCentre. BabyCenter, L.L.C. Retrieved 2007-07-08.
- British Humanist Association page on Humanist Baby Namings
- "Jewish Birth and Naming Rituals". ReligionFacts. Retrieved 2007-07-08.
- Wicca - a guide for the solitary practitioner by Scott Cunningham