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Feb
16
2011

Continuing on the topic of names this month, what of the Namakarana (or Namkaran) – the baby naming ceremony?  As one Sanskrit scholar put it, “Name is the primary means of social intercourse, it brings about merits and it is the root of fortune.  From name man attains fame.  Therefore, [the] naming ceremony is very praiseworthy.”  (Brhaspati).  It’s only befitting then, that an entire ceremony is devoted to naming a child!

The Namakarana is the 5th of the 16 Hindu Samskaras – and is typically performed between the 10th and 12th days following birth, although timing varies widely depending on family customs and observations.  Naming was so important that the historical custom evolved into giving the child 4 names:

1- Nakshatra Name:  this name was derived from the nakshatra (constellation) under which the child was born.  Certain of the 52 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet are ascribed to each of the 27 constellations, and the child was to be given a name starting with that letter.  In some families, the nakshatra-name is given on the actual day of birth, but was kept secret by the parents up until the time of he Upanayana (a later Samskara).

2- Month-Deity Name:  The second name was connected with the deity of the month the child was born in.

3- Family-Deity Name:  The third name was given according to the family deity.  It was believed that the child would receive special protection of the deity.

4- Popular Name:  Finally, of course, was the popular name.  This name was to be auspicious and signficant.  It was believed that the name should have certain qualities – that it be easy to pronounce and sweet to hear, indicate the sex of the child, and be significant of fame, wealth, power or some other desireable quality.

The actual procedure varies again by family custom, but the cermony is a very simple one.  First, the house is cleaned and preliminary prayers and rites performed.  The mother and baby bathe and dress in new clothes.  The mother then wets the head of the child with water (as a symbol of purification) and hands it over to the father.  More offerings and prayers are made, and the father then “touches the breaths of the child” and speaks the name into the child’s right ear.  Relatives are invited to bless the child and requisite feasting ensues…

Some families have a tradition of a cradle ceremony, or ooyala ceremony as we call it in Telugu.  This is also performed on the 11th or 21st day, which can also encompass the Namakarana.

Whatever the practice, it is undoubtedly a special time to celebrate the new baby and the family’s good fortune.  For me as a mother, the ceremony was very emotional both times around – I was very thankful to have healthy babies and to celebrate with our near and dear.  As I reminisce, here is a snap from my daughter’s ooyala.

Significance and procedure of Namakarana ceremony taken from Rajbali Pandey’s Hindu Samskaras.
Top image: letterpress birth annoucement by Sweet Beets

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