Monday, June 14, 2010

What’s in a Name?

In my teens I spent hours fantasizing on the names that I would give to the countless number of children I was going to give birth to, and though I didn’t exactly do that, i.e. give birth to countless number of children, I still have a lot of names in my name bank. I take pride in the Yoruba culture of naming children, how in its original form we wait seven days before we give the child a name and it’s the oldest member of the extended family who has this honor. He or she has to meditate on the name, going into the family history that is hopefully in the vault of his psyche, and consulting with the ancestors.

The ceremony is a whole day event that begins at the crack of dawn with everyone arriving at 5.00am and sitting in a circle around a table laden with all the ingredients for the ceremony.

These are Water—the indispensable source of life. Salt – It is sweet in moderation but bitter in excess; that the baby’s life would not be full of bitterness, the kind that we bring upon ourselves by looking back on what could have been instead of moving forward. Honey—that a life of hard work like that of the busy bees yields honey. The hope is that the baby will grow to be a hard worker and a productive member of the community. Atare—these are little seeds, lots of them in a pod. And the prayer is that the child will grow up and be fertile, giving birth to millions of children. There are money, the currency of exchange, pen, symbolizing education that has the power to transport the child of a pauper to the president of a country, and kola-nut—for wisdom, and many other ingredients used for their symbolic meanings.

And as the patriarch or matriarch holding the baby in her arms take these items one by one and touching the baby’s lips or hand with them, she would say these prayers and then they are passed on to the people gathered around for them to add to the prayers as they too taste or touch these items. The names of the baby are then announced and they could be from six to ten.