Child Naming Ceremony-”Isomolorúko”

14 Dec

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 new baby with her parents and grandparents

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.

getting ready to 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.

The Ceremony

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.

Naira!

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.

Lots of names!

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.

Socializing with Friends

My mom (right), a happy new grandmother

Guests during the ceremony

Inside of the compound where the ceremony took place

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9 Responses to “Child Naming Ceremony-”Isomolorúko””

  1. Karen Born December 14, 2010 at 4:58 PM #

    Kevin, thank you for sharing this with us! Years ago, I thought I put a tremendous amount of time into the name selection process of my children. Well, that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface in comparison to their culture.

    The naming ceremony appears to be a very thoughtful and meaningful event. I really respect and appreciate the level of importance that is put into naming their children. I thought it was interesting that the elders may name them what they wish, and refer to them that way for life. In a minute and less formal way, it reminds me of how many of us do that in a way with nicknames in America.

    I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read how you were publicly questioned about how much money you gave…an approach that clearly provides results.

    Wonderful that you played your talking drum, and you obviously are appreciated for what you share with them too!

  2. Toun December 14, 2010 at 7:34 PM #

    A ‘typical’ isomoloruko features Obi(kolanut- omo yi agbo bi Obi); Oyin(Honey- aiye omo aladun bi oyin);aadun, Ireke,orogbo,Iyo(salt-aiye omo yi ani iyo-meaning it would have substance)e.t.c. I hope you saw these at this particular naming ceremony. Gosh I miss home!!

  3. Ibukun December 14, 2010 at 9:20 PM #

    A dupe o, eku n’owo, eku ewo omo. Olorun a ma duro ti family o. I have to say ceremonies like wedding introductions, isomoloruko ati beebe lo…those make me very proud of the yoruba culture.

  4. Tomi December 15, 2010 at 5:56 AM #

    Love my name(Olaoluwatomi)and my oruko amutorunwa-Kehinde, my grandpa gave me my first name and I have 6 or 7 other names, which only exist on my birth certificate- im still amazed that they managed to squeeze them all in there!

  5. Daring December 16, 2010 at 4:19 AM #

    This is a great account of event, anyone who needs a guide on how naming ceremony is done among the Yorubas will find this very useful.

    Yoruba Christians will do almost everything you’ve described in this post excpet for the mode of prayers and the ‘book’

    I have just two names (surname makes it three) I envy the newborns of these days…they make more names than money from birth. It’s all good, as the adage goes: Oruko rere san ju wura ati fadaka lo.

  6. Sola March 9, 2011 at 2:09 AM #

    you could not have described the significance of this experience any better!

  7. Adenle March 12, 2011 at 3:53 AM #

    Yoruba culture is the most advance in the world. Yorubas has been able to maintain their rich culture inspite of the european influence. This is a very written account of Yoruba naming ceremony.
    Kevin, thank you for sharing this with the world at large.

  8. Adrienne April 27, 2011 at 7:20 PM #

    Nice post and great pictures! I am a first-time mom-to-be married to a man with a Yoruba background. Although I’m sure he isn’t worrying himself much over our future child’s name, I’m debating over the baby having a Yoruba name or another American/African/etc name. I’ve made the firm decision that I do not wish for middle names and I’m not a real big fan of nicknames. That being said a naming ceremony for a baby, with so many great names to choose from, might be just as overwhelming for me as it would be fun. :)

    Thanks for sharing.

  9. anike September 14, 2012 at 4:27 AM #

    This is a very good description. Am a yoruba girl also living in ile ife. Am proud to say we have a very rich culture but it pains me to see the culture disappearing. People don’t even give their children oriki again or allow their children to speak yoruba. I speak yoruba well and am also very fluent in english. Why must it be mutually exclusive?

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