As promised two entries ago, I will now explain the Yorùbá tradition of the child naming ceremony. When a child is born in America, the name is often times chosen days, months, or even years before the actual birth. Although there are exceptions to the rule, a child born in Yorubaland doesn’t receive its names until about a week after the birth. Once the mother has had a bit of time to rest, the Yorubas hold a child naming ceremony to officially welcome the child into the world, give it praises and prayers to see it has a successful life, and most importantly: name it.The child naming ceremony resembles a typical Yorùbá party type of gathering in that it usually takes place outside under a tent, involves a gratuitous amount of praying, and is full of celebration. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to help my older host sister Mutiat and her husband Taoreed (CHECK) welcome their new baby girl into the world. The event was held at their house in Ile-Ife Nigeria, considered to be the religious and physical origin of the Yoruba people.
In the week before the ceremony, my parents (who had recently become first time grandparents) were ecstatic and frantically preparing for the child naming ceremony from the moment my older brother came sprinting into our flat one morning (from the room he lives in down the road) to deliver the message that Mutiat finally had her baby. It was both joyous and emotional to see my parents go through such a life changing event. The day of the ceremony, guests started arriving at my house at 7:30AM to assemble the convoy that would soon depart for Ile-Ife.My parents had rented dishes and made a lot of food to bring to the party. As is customary in Yoruba culture, everyone who saw my parents said special prayers and greetings for them about the new child and their new roles as grandparents, and my parents said traditional prayers and greetings back. Some examples of prayers (translated to English) include “God will watch over the baby,” “greetings for a hand in water (to wash the baby, from times before diapers),” “Joy will go all around for everyone,” and “others will soon see this day of their own.” I can say these prayers and greetings in my sleep now, as every single day between when the baby was born and the child naming ceremony, I woke up between 6 and 6:30AM to a new set of visitors in our living room who had come to congratulate my parents. I was beginning to feel like our house was the office of some sort of important business man given the volume of daily visitors.
About an hour and a half late (Africa time again), we finally departed for Ile-Ife. When we arrived at my sister’s house, we joined mostly family and close friends who were eating a meal inside. After waiting around and talking to people for a few hours, the ceremony under the tent began.My family is Muslim, so they followed Islamic traditions with the naming ceremony. Verses from the Koran were read, and Muslim prayers were recited in unison. I can’t speak Arabic, but after this day I can say a few things such as “Thanks be to Allah,” and “Allah willing” due to the gratuitous amounts of time I heard these phrases. The parents and grandparents sat at the front of the tent and passed the baby around as it was given prayers and praises. Money was also collected four or five times for various reasons: care of the baby, care of the mother, general donations, etc. Large silver platters were passed around and each person put a few Naira (or a lot of Naira if you were one of the grandparents) on the platter. After not giving money the first round, Abike and I were guilt-tripped into quickly giving a crisp 500 Naira bill when the MC called us out, “Oyinbo, how much have you given!?!?” when it was our turn. Finally, each of the grandparents gave the baby a name they thought would be fitting. Money was again given by the audience for each of the names that was called. Finally, a slip of paper was handed out with all of the baby’s new names-ten in all.
It is common for a baby to receive at least ten names at a child naming ceremony. Each friend and family member can offer a name. Over the first few months of the child’s life, the names that people call the child by the most are the ones that stick (obviously the parents also have a large influence on this). However, if an elderly person gives a special name to a child at a naming ceremony, he/she may call the child by that name for the rest of its life, even though no one elses refers to the child by that name.Names are an extremely significant part of Yoruba culture, and I am genuinely embarrassed to tell people I don’t really know the meaning of my english name. Names in Yoruba are like a sentence-they all have a deep meaning, usually having something to do with wealth, the crown (royalty), joy, or God. Numerous categories of names exist-there are praise names, names that describe the circumstances of the birth of the child (time, place, breached birth, etc.), special names for twins (the Yoruba people have a higher incidence of twin births than any other cultural group in the world), and many more. Names are believed to help predict the future of a child’s life, as well as giving the child an expectation and code to live its life by.
After the ceremony (which lasted about an hour) finished, every kind of Yoruba food you could imagine was available to eat. Various friends and extended family members popped in and out to greet the new parents, get a bite to eat, and socialize all afternoon. I brought my talking drum with me and entertained some of the guests. I met a lot of interesting people and overall it was a cool experience.