Akan women gathered for a naming ceremony
In traditional African society, the naming ceremony announces the birth of a newborn, it is an avenue to introduce the child to the extended family, the larger community, and above all, it confers on the child a name. The naming ceremony of a new baby is one very important rite of passage in life as the name given to a baby can have an influence on their personality.
Below are some interesting naming ceremony traditions from a handful of African countries:
Yoruba Naming Ceremony- Nigeria
Among the Yoruba people in South West Nigeria, the naming ceremony of a child is done seven days after birth (on the eighth day). The circumstances surrounding a child’s birth often has an influence on the name that is chosen. Names are typically picked by elders, although members of the community can also pay a token to choose a name for a child. An elder, who is often a grandparent of the child usually oversees the ceremony and it begins with a small prayer and the introduction of the baby. Then prayers and songs of praise welcome the new addition to the family. The presiding elder will then officiate the event with 7 symbolic items that are traditionally used to express the hope or path of a successful life. Prayers are offered using traditional items like salt, honey, kola nut, dried fish, water, beans cooked with corn, and palm oil.
Akan Naming Ceremony- Ghana
The Akan, found mainly in Ghana and The Ivory Coast, are the descendants of the founders of the Kingdom of Bonoman. Traditionally, they leave the naming ceremony until the eighth day as a way to confirm that the child has come to stay and will not be leaving untimely (passing away), returning to the world of the ancestors. They name their children after the respective day they were born. Over time, the Akan people have defined seven names per gender, each referring to a day of the week. The newborn child may also have another name after this, named after relatives (dead or alive), or the circumstances surrounding his or her birth. Naming ceremonies usually take place at dawn because it is believed that the dew at dawn is fresh and it represents the innocence of the newborn. On the day of the ceremony, the baby is named by an elder of the family. Alcohol and water put on the tongue of the baby, signifying the difference between the truth and a lie. It is believed that this will help the child to speak truth in every aspect of his life.
Umtata Naming Ceremony- South Africa
The people of Umtata in the south eastern cape of South Africa have a ceremony between the third and fourteenth day after birth of a baby called “Sifudu”, It is similar to the ceremony performed by many other tribes across Africa to cleanse a baby following the birth. A fire is lit in the middle of the hut using the leaves picked from the Sifudu tree, these leaves have an exceptionally pungent aroma. The smoke produced can be irritating to mouth, nostrils and eyes. A woman holds baby head downwards into the smoke, which gives it such a shock it can hardly cry. After turning baby around several times in the smoke it is handed back to its seated mother who swiftly passes the child under one of her legs, then under the other. It is believed that all this, plus the smoke shock, assures beyond any doubt that when the child grows up it will never be subject to fright, nor be timid, shy or easily ridiculed by minor or adult, but rather grow to become a confident, strong and courageous adult.
Akamba Naming Ceremony- Kenya
Among the Akamba people of Kenya and parts of what is now Tanzania, the naming ceremony of a child is held on the third day following their birth. Before the naming ceremony, the newborn is regarded as a spirit and not as a complete human being. When a child is born, the parents slaughter a goat or bull on the third day in appreciation of the ancestral spirits for the gift of a child and the fertility of the parents. Many people in the community will come to celebrate and rejoice with the family, and the woman who have borne children get together to give a name to the child. This is known as ‘the name of ngima’, ngima being the main dish prepared for the occasion. On the fourth day, the father hangs an iron necklace on the child’s neck, after which he is now regarded as a full human being, having now lost all contact with the spirit world. Before that, the child is seen as an ‘object’ belonging to the spirits (kiimu). During the night following the naming, the parents perform ritual sexual intercourse, which is a seal of the child’s separation from the spirits and the living-dead, and its integration into the company of human beings. However, if the baby passes away before the naming ceremony, the mother becomes ritually unclean and must be cleansed. The highlight of the ceremony is when the grandmother of the child or an elderly female relative announces the baby’s name.
It is the belief withing most Africans tribes and culture that a person’s name plays a very crucial part in that person’s life; and tells a story of who we are, our character/personality and the paths in which we are destined to follow. This why, in traditional African communities, it is of utmost importance to carefully and thoughtfully select the name for a baby, while some even consult deities or seek spiritual guidance before selecting their baby names because they strongly believe that for example, a strong or a positive, or hopeful name will have a great impact on the child as he or she grows.