The power of names across cultures

names Recently we met with two other couples who have been good friends since university.

Just as the conversations were getting started, one of the husbands present put his arm around his wife and said, “We have good news. There will be a new addition to our household sometime soon!”

Of course we were all delighted for them, and later in the evening the conversation drifted to possible names for their child. Like most couples, at least here in the U.S., they’ve started drafting possible boy names and girl names for their bundle of joy.

To my husband, though, this is a little premature. In the culture where he grew up, babies aren’t usually named until they are born! It’s foolish to begin thinking of names for someone who hasn’t been born yet.

That’s because the names often reflect something special or unique to that baby. If the babies are born on a feast day, for example, one of their names will be literally “feast day.” Perhaps they are very loud and playful, in which case one of their names might be “laughing” or something similar.

Oh, and did I mention that babies get named by a dozen or so relatives, meaning they usually have 10 or more names? (Try fitting all of those into one passport!)

Even after the baby is born, it is still called “Baby” for several days until he or she is named by the parents’ family members. I understand that in the old days, this could take several weeks or months as relatives had to walk their way to the child’s household. So the baby had better hope they were in a good mood when they arrived at the naming ceremony!

This got me thinking about the power of names – how they can reflect socioeconomic status, family heritage, personal character traits, blessings from the parents, etc.

If you have children, how did you choose to name them? Did you find a way to honor both your cultures (mother and father), and were there any challenges along the way?

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About multiculturalmarriage

I'm glad to be part of a multicultural marriage! I grew up in the U.S. but am married to an African husband. This makes life challenging, creative and cool - all at the same time!
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2 Responses to The power of names across cultures

  1. I love the idea of waiting to name children after they are born and you’ve gotten to know them a little bit! We didn’t do that, however…

    My son’s first name is the same as my husband, my uncle and my husband’s uncle. His middle name is the same as my father and another of my husband’s uncles. The girls also have names that are shared on both sides of our family. We decided to honor our family members by naming our children after them, and were lucky that despite growing up in very different families, there were a lot of common names among our families!

    • That’s so cool! I’m glad you shared that. How neat to have names that have such a shared legacy in your family – I bet it unifies each side even more!

      What about nicknames? Do your kids have a special nickname that’s unique to just them? I know some parents don’t like it when their son Michael is called “Mike,” for example, but then the kid will prefer the nickname over the full name. Interesting how it all works out.

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