THE AFRICAN NAMING CEREMONY
‘For it’s through our names that we first place ourselves in the world. Our names, being the gift of others, must be made our own. They must become our mask and our shields and the containers of all those values and traditions which we learn and/or image as being the meaning of our familiar past.’
- Ralph Ellison
The practice of giving a child
an African name has become very popular among persons of African descent. This
is mainly as a result of the re-awakening of their ‘black consciousness’.
Surprisingly, it is not only newborn who are being given African names, but
several adults are also opting to change their European-derived names to more
symbolic African ones.
Choosing a child’s name is a
very important matter in Africa. In African societies, a person’s name is an
essential component of his/her spiritual anatomy. It is believed that a child’s
name can determine his/her success in life. Therefore, in recognition of its
important function, a special ceremony is usually held shortly after the birth
of an infant for the purpose of naming him/her.
In many African societies, the
naming ceremony is held on the eighth day after an infant’s birth. The Yoruba
believe that a child who is not named within seven to nine days after its birth
will not outlive its parent of the same sex. For the Akan, the importance of
having the naming ceremony on the same day of the week as the child’s birth
date is to ensure that the spirit of the individual will be aligned with the
Divine qualities of the God who governs that particular day of the week. The kra
den or soul name is determined by the day of the week on which the child is
born. It is also the father’s responsibility to name the child. However, both
parents sometimes take the responsibility to do so.
The day’s activities at a naming
ceremony vary from one ethnic group. However, the underlying purpose tends to
be the same for all. The naming ceremony is essentially a rite of passage and
initiation. Naming ceremonies begin in the early morning, usually at the birth
home. Father, mother and baby dress in white and await the arrival of the
Elders, who are the officiants of the ceremony, as well as family and friends.
The Elders invoke the Gods to grant the child and its parents, good health,
long life and prosperity. A part of the ceremony involves the infant being
given water and some form of strong drink, like rum, to taste. This is done so
that he/she will be able to differentiate from an early age, that which is good
from that which is bad. Towards the end of the ceremony, the baby’s name is
announced to the gathering after which he/she is passed around to everyone
present. The guests then present gifts to the baby.
After the formal ceremony, the
festivities begin. A feast is provided for the guests and the remainder of the
day is filled with music, singing and dancing. Sometimes the festivities
continue to well into the next morning.
- Dzobo, N.K., African Names Now: Ewe names and their meanings,
University of Cape Coast, Ghana, 1976.
- Adefunmi, Oba Oseijeman, African Names from the ancient Yoruba Kingdom of
Nigeria , Great Benin Books, Yoruba Academy.
- Akhan, Kwesi Ra Nehem Ptah, Den To: The Akan Naming Ceremony. Extract from www.odwirafo.com/Dento.doc, 2004.
- African Naming Ceremonies.
Extract from www.blessthechild.co.uk/html/baptism.htm.
- A Nigerian Yoruba Naming Ceremony.
Extract from www.folklife.si.edu/africa/start.htm.