It’s All in a Name

maxresdefaultThe first time I saw a naming ceremony in person was in Tallahassee.  A young couple presented their first born son to a community of elders, peers, and children and charged us to be his collective guiding force, protector, and reminder of his purpose by helping him uphold the weight of his name’s meaning. The experience had a profound affect on me as a young educator unfolding into the woman I was meant to become. It solidified my belief that a person’s name can be empowering and prophetic, as my name had been.

Years later,before we had any children, my husband and I decided that I would name any that we had because he chose our family’s last name; it’s an African name that defines the mission of our family. We agreed that our children would all have names reflective of their heritage and lineage and that defined their purpose and legacy.  We also agreed that they too would be presented to our community in a naming ceremony, though he had never seen one. I knew, long before either was conceived, that we would have a daughter and a son and their names came to me very clearly after much thought and consideration.

Because my husband could not wait the typical month to reveal the name, our daughter’s naming ceremony was just days after her birth. In her nursery encircled by love, we introduced our newborn, Aminata Louise, to her maternal grandparents, aunt, uncle, cousin, and Godmother. We informed them that she was named after Queen Aminata of northern Nigeria and that we would call her Amina, both of which mean honest, faithful, & trustworthy.  Her middle name, though not of African origin, is to honor each her paternal great-grandmother, and maternal aunt and great-great-grandmother. Its German and French roots mean “renowned warrior.”  We remind her through the echoing of her name that she is of regal lineage because of her ancestors; that she must exhibit integrity and honor in all she does and that she must be courageous and brilliant.

Our son, a month old already, still has me in awe of having a son at all. The thoughts of mothering a son as opposed to a daughter are completely different. I was equally excited about both, but I was much more concerned this time around than I was with my little girl. I know girls. Connecting with them is innate for me.  Boys offer me a challenge, and I feel less equipped to guide them. I knew his name needed to embody strength and offer him encouragement if ever I couldn’t.  I knew he needed to be reminded of his greatness because the world would tell him otherwise.

Ceremony ProgramWe presented Amiri Jasir James to our beautiful village in Singapore just days after his prolonged birth. We were so fortunate to have my parents present along with our new extended family here. Everyone stood in a circle as we explained that the name “Amiri” honors the late renowned poet and prophet Amiri Baraka, who just transitioned months earlier. It means “Prince” or “Leader” in Arabic; “the height of trees” in Hebrew, and “the East Wind” in Maori. All of which are fitting because he too must know he is regal, must strive to reach higher heights, and know that he was born in a very foreign land by no accident. His first middle name means “bold, courageous, honest and inventive” & the second is the name of his paternal great-grandfather, great-uncle, and a host of other men in our family.

During the ceremony, we explained and demonstrated libation before taking a parental pledge. The present Godparent and Community also took a pledge to offer guidance, counsel, support, and love. My husband read a rousing tribute to our son, echoing the lessons he has been charged to teach him. Amiri was then anointed with oils and milk to symbolize God’s protection and good fortune. Lastly, the community welcomed him into this world and we, as his parents, rededicated him to God.  My father closed us in prayer as we sang “Thank You Lord” together and tears scrolled down my face as I reflected on the auspiciousness of the moment. The event was celebrated with soulful dishes from each household as we feasted and rejoiced for our new addition.

Both of my children will know how their names came to be what they are; why they must uphold their meanings, and the wealth of love that is their birthright as it was displayed in their naming ceremonies.  I am so fortunate to have seen a glimpse into what we as Africans in America have lost when I witnessed my first naming ceremony in Tallahassee, and to be able to recreate the experience with our own community here in Asia.

 

Notes For a Speech

African blues
does not know me. Their steps, in sands
of their own
land. A country
in black & white, newspapers
blown down pavements
of the world. Does
not feel
what I am.

Strength

in the dream, an oblique
suckling of nerve, the wind
throws up sand, eyes
are something locked in
hate, of hate, of hate, to
walk abroad, they conduct
their deaths apart
from my own. Those
heads, I call
my “people.”

(And who are they. People. To concern

myself, ugly man. Who
you, to concern
the white flat stomachs
of maidens, inside houses
dying. Black. Peeled moon
light on my fingers
move under
her clothes. Where
is her husband. Black
words throw up sand
to eyes, fingers of
their private dead. Whose
soul, eyes, in sand. My color
is not theirs. Lighter, white man
talk. They shy away. My own
dead souls, my, so called
people. Africa
is a foreign place. You are
as any other sad man here
american.

-Amiri Baraka

5 thoughts on “It’s All in a Name

  1. That’s beautiful and inspiring. I admire the blueprint that you and your husband are laying out for what the modern black family can and should be. I had already decided that if I’m blessed to have another child I too would like to do something similar. Then it occurred to me that my son’s name does have meaning and I chose it very carefully, yet I don’t think I’ve ever communicated it to him. He may be too old for the ceremony at age 14 lol but I will take the time to make sure he understands who he is. Great read friend.

    1. But, it’s not too late for a Rites of Passage ceremony, which we plan to do when they are of age as well. Everyone needs to be reminded of why they were given their name and the responsibility it holds. It might be very powerful for him, especially during these transitions.

  2. Dear Talitha,
    This process is truly beautiful. ..In India as well we name our children as per the values and attributes we would like them to live with….my children too are named similarly. ..Vedant means one who has deciphered the meaning of true knowledge and Vanhi means igniting a sacred flame within yourself to self enlightenment…
    Everyday we strive pray and hope they will grow nurture and imbibe the beautiful meanings ingrained in their names….

    God bless your family
    Lots of love,
    Pooja

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