What’s in a Name?

When my daughter was born, my husband and I spent several hours tossing a few names back and forth. I was determined that her first name, the one that everyone would call all the time, would be something that reflected who she was, and who we wanted her to be. It was also to be a name that reflected her Kenyan heritage. We finally settled on the Arabic name, Jamila, that was common in Kenya and meant beautiful. In Kenyan tradition (for a majority of the tribes), the first girl is usually named after the father’s mother. Although we wanted to keep that tradition, we decided to give her, her father’s grandmother’s name. My husband’s grandmother was a prolific writer with a very artistic bent. She was a great orator, a leader and a strong woman. I wanted my daughter to embody as many of those characteristics as possible. She is already a leader, a great singer, an artist, and a natural actress. The grace with which she carries herself is natural and unaffected. Do we really become what we are named? I think that in a way we do.

From a logical point of view, your name will be called at least 20 times a day, if not more. Science has shown that children react to what we call them. If we are negative in the names that we call them they become the negative thing that we say that they are. When we call my daugher, we are saying, ‘Beautiful, come here.” She knows the meaning of her names and the reason why she was given the names. We have told her about her great grandmother, and mentioned all the great things she accomplished. The name has always raised questions from other children and she has had an opportunity to share her Kenyan heritage with them. In naming a child after a person who has passed away, or is still alive, Africans believe that you honor that person and keep their memory alive. In some cultures, if the person a child is named after is still alive, it is disrespectful to call the child by the same name out loud. The child will get a nickname that embodies the personality of the person that they are named after, and that will become the name that they are known by. If we think that names don’t affect how people view us, try naming your child Barbie or Bambi. Chances are, most people will assume that she is not very smart (especially if she is pretty – a stereotype, I know, but one that is held nonteheless), whereas if she is called Emily, it conjures up images of a smart girl (probably with glasses and not very attractive). This is not true about the individual, but we are conditioned to think in stereotypes.

Some tribes have naming ceremonies where the elders will pick names that fit the personality they see in the child. Blessing are said and the child is given gifts that symbolize the promise that a he/she holds. Almost all names are given in the hope that they will destine the child for greatness and leadership. The tie to their ancestry and the hope that they will honor those that have gone before them is prevelant in the naming traditions. If we pass down the stories of greatness, how can our children do anything but aim to succeed. They are taught that they come from a long line of successful people, and their destiny is to surpass those who came before them. Such inspiration on a personal level is difficult to ignore. Self-assurance and confidence are sure to be their lifelong companions.

Naming a child might seem like a simple process, but when we look at the ramifications of it, we will be more careful about what we call our children.

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