Tag Archives: naming

The Second Name

Main piece: We have the tradition of naming our children after loved ones who have died. If however, the person who is deceased died at a young age, we give the baby a second name of an old person. We want the baby to have better luck and live longer; live a long life.

Background: My informant is a seventy-nine year old Ashkenazi Jewish woman living in Baltimore, Maryland. She is also my grandmother. She describes herself as a follower of “bubbe-meise” (Yiddish), translated to “grandmother’s fable”, or a more serious version of old wive’s tales that are often accompanied by superstitions.

Context: My informant and I were discussing Jewish cultural traditions, when she asked me if I could remember where I got my name. I told her that it was after my great-aunt (her sister-in-law), who died fairly young (she was fifty-nine) of breast cancer. My informant then asked me if I remembered where I got my middle name. I told her it was after her (the informant’s) grandmother, who lived well into her nineties (she was around ninety-seven when she passed). My informant then explained this cultural practice to me. My informant’s eldest son’s name followed this tradition as well. 

Analysis: It is a custom of Ashkenazi culture to name children after deceased loved ones, as both a way of honoring them and carrying their memories on  (this is not true for all Jewish people; Sephardic Jews name their children after living relatives, while Ashkenazi Jews do not). However, with loved ones who unfortunately did not live long or happy lives there is a fear that the children will also be cursed with a similar fate. However, by adding on a second name of someone who did have, as my informant puts it, “better luck”, the parents can honor their loved one while cancelling out any bad luck or misfortune that may accompany the name. Additionally, the source of the name is usually someone the parents want their child to emulate, or whose virtues the deceased namesake could hopefully pass on. There is also a belief that the soul of the deceased loved one lives on in the child who carries their name. The fear then comes from the idea that the child will not only inherit the virtues of their namesake, but the misfortunes as well. By tagging on a second name of someone who had a happier or longer life, the parents then believe that the souls of the two namesakes will both bequeath their virtues, and not their misfortunes.

How Kolkatta got its name


This is the story of how Kolkata got its name. So, once there was a European man who was travelling in the train. And then he asked a local farmer *does comically heavy British accent* “Excuse me sir, buy what is this place called then?” And the local farmer didn’t understand what he was saying and uh… he had some bushels of wheat- no rice, bushels of rice in his hand. And he thought the man was asking when he cut it. So he said “Kal Katta. Kal Katta.” (hindi/bengali for “I cut it yesterday”) *laughs* *imitates British accent again* “Oh Calcutta? Is that what it is called then?” So that’s how its *laughing hysterically* -that’s how the name came about. 


P is Bengali but grew up in Maharashtra. He has a lost connection to his parent’s original homeland. His parents and grandparents often tell him stories about Bengal. Kolkata is the capital of Bengal. This story is a historical joke told to him by his grandfather. 


P told me this piece of history over the phone when I called him about my assignment. At first he was joking around about what kind of folklore to give me but then settled on this with an air of flippancy. He is a close friend hence the casualness. 


This historical joke, likely untrue, requires a knowledge of Hindi or Bengali in order to understand the punchline of the joke. The local man with his bushels of rice is representative of the people of Bengal while the ignorant Britisher is a personification of their hate toward the colonizers. The joke showcases the ignorance of the Britishers yet how much power they held to be able to simply name an entire state of India. 

How to Name Scottish Royalty

Context: Gathered from one of my roommates once he found out about my collection project.

Background: My roommate comes from “a long lineage of Scottish kings and clan leaders of a certain group of isles.”

The Tradition: In Scotland, the ritual for naming a child in a family line, particularly if they’re royalty, is to simply add the prefix “Mc” or “Mac” to the name of the father and make that the child’s surname.

Example: My roommate has an ancestor with the full title Angus McRonald McDonald Sworely, King of the Isles. Thus, he is alternatively know as King Angus, Son of Ronald McDonald Sworely, who was himself at one point King Ronald, Son of Donald Sworely.

(Note: The proper spelling of the surname “Sworely” is unknown.)

Analysis: I found this Scottish process of naming is most comparable to the Vikings’ method of creating the “____son” surname (Ex: Lief Erikson, or Lief, Son of Erik). I put a little research into the claims my roommate made, and the only thing I found off about the whole thing was that the names mentioned above are in fact “MacDonald” rather than “McDonald” (I kept the piece above as is for the sake of putting down what I was told by my roommate).

A Lineage of Names


“Yep I like it. I get asked to repeat it all the time though like when I order stuff like coffee.”

A friend’s family has maintained a naming lineage for several generations. They possess in the family a large scroll with a family tree dating back to the 1500s. It began with Thor the first, who’s grandson was given the name Thor the second. Flash forward to now, where the informant’s father is Thor the 4th. His father named his children after other Norse gods, and the first of them to have a male child will be expected to name it Thor the 5th. His father maintained the naming because he wanted to stay true to his Scandinavian roots and not betray a long established tradition. The informant doesn’t mind, and says he too would feel an obligation to continue it if he is the first to have a son.



My good friend, the informant, loves the tradition. He and his brothers all have pretty awesome sounding names that are unique. He says it makes him feel like he’s a part of something larger, but also feel unique since he doesn’t meet people who share the same story. He hinted at wanting the Thor naming right, but didn’t seem eager to rush into having children just for that purpose.



It’s certainly a unique naming scheme to come across, at least in America – I can’t speak for other regions. The dedication to cultural roots is admirable and impressive when it lasts for several generations. The informant and his father don’t have much with regards to information about the original Thor in the lineage, since the informant’s grandfather passed away very early in his son’s life. In any case, whether or not the original Thor had intention to create a pattern or that was the standard at the time isn’t known by the informant.

Hawaiian “Baby’s Firsts”

ʻahaʻaina māwaewae

The rituals start with the baby’s birth. ʻAhaʻaina māwaewae is the celebration 24 hours after a child’s birth—so what happens in this one is that… it’s like whereas the ʻahaʻaina palala (one-year celebration) is a physical celebration of the child surviving, the ʻahaʻaina māwaewae is more of a psychological celebration. This is where you decide the pathway for the child, and decide to take the responsibility of its safety and welfare. This is also when you dedicate the child to the ʻaumakua, and the reason for this is so that the child won’t be high strung and unruly; so that the child follows the traditional values of the family and their belief system. ʻAumakua is a family guardian that can take shape in the form of animals or plants or elements.



Hiapo is the first born. Doesn’t matter what gender, it’s just the first born child. The reason why hiapo is so important is because that’s who the elders are gonna look toward for responsibilities and to perpetuate the traditions and to prepare and teach the younger siblings and the younger generations when they come. That’s why the ʻahaʻaina māwaewae is so important, especially with the first child, because they need to be nurtured and they take so much time.

When a woman finds out she’s pregnant, her husband will start raising a pig for the ʻahaʻaina māwaewae, and then as soon as the child is born, there’s special seafood that’s secured—these foods are like symbols of the child to be like. So… they’ll get a crab/fish (ʻamaʻama and/or āholehole) because these are the `aumakua of the area, and these are mainly specific to the families that grow up in Kaʻū because a lot of these peoples’ guardians (`aumakua) is this animal…

So the ʻamaʻama crab and the āholehole fish are the `aumakua—so they (the family) eat it to pay homage to him (the guardian), and that’s like a form of dedicating the child to the `aumakua… and then they also have lūʻau leaf (taro leaf) because kalo (taro) is the plant form of Lono, and Lono is the god of harvest and fertility. And they also have mahiki, which is a kind of shrimp, and mahiki literally translates to “peel off,” like fish scales… that one is meant to peel off as in peel off the bad; you want your baby to be “clean,” like they don’t want him sheathed in bad things.

Then they have kala, seaweed, and that word means “to loosen or set free.” Like you’re literally separating the child from his mother and that child is now independent in a way, and now, with the support of his family, is going to learn what he needs to, grow up and survive and eventually actually be independent from the family. And at the same time, they’re going to eat ʻaʻama, because that means to paʻa … “to stay close with the family,” because although the child is going to learn to be independent and learn to take care of himself, he is also going to remain close with the family and understand that he needs to take care of them. Because the Hawaiian way of thinking is that you can’t have any… there’s no rogues—everyone belongs somewhere, you are a part of a family unit and it’s uncommon if you aren’t. If you’re not, that means you did something very wrong. Family is the most important thing.

They also have mele inoa and mele maʻi that they have at the different `ahas… `aha `aina is like a party, it’s like a pa`ina… so a mele inoa is a name chant—pretty much self explanatory; a chant about your name. But when you get your name depends… Some people will go to a kahuna (priest), and they’ll ask the kahuna to dream—that’s how a lot of people get their names, through dreams. Someone will dream it up. There’s other ways you could get it, you could be named after a grandparent or an elder. You could have an inoa hoʻomanaʻo (a name in rememberance of a person or an event), relating to a past event or mostly to recognize a person or event close to the time of your birth. Queen Liliuokalani, her middle name is Kamakameha (“sore eye”) because when she was born her aunt had an eye infection. The names don’t need to be pretty, they’re to remember people.

I have a friend, Mahue Matekino (he’s from New Zealand), his name is an inoa hoʻomanaʻo and his name means “the one forgotten”—‘mahue’ means forgotten, and ‘matekino’ means death/dead, like a body… it relates to cancer, and he was named that because two weeks before he was born, his grandpa died of cancer, so he was the forgotten grandchild because he didn’t get to meet his grandpa… It’s really sad, but to Mahue it’s not sad, because you get to remember the best—the name physically ties you to that person.

And we have inoa pō, and the inoa pō actually kind of relates to having a dream, but not strictly. It doesn’t necessarily need to come in a dream, but this name is in honor of the `aumakua, and can sometimes be given by the `aumakua in the form of a dream.

There’s a lot of names in Hawaiian that are not pretty, but nowadays everybody just wants fricken’ pretty names… (less legit)

Then there’s ‘mo ka piko,’ and this name is given in contempt to anyone who has been rude to the family or rude to one of the chiefs. And, I guess that because they strongly believe that what your name entails are the traits you’re gonna inherit—it’s very common if you have this name to be very protective of the family or chief (inoa kuamuamu). ‘Inoa aloha aliʻi’ is “to remember a beloved chief.” Ākeamakamae (my sister) almost had an inoa aloha aliʻi.

The other chant, a mele ma`i, is a “genetalia chant,” as weird as it sounds, and that one is for the main purpose of procreation—a lot of ali`i (chiefs) would have it, would have one done for them—to spiritually influence them to procreate. And for the child, a mele ma`i explains how you came about and that this is what you need to do and why it’s important. It’s not so much the numbers of people that’s important, but they need the tradition to keep going, that’s why it’s important. When one kupuna (grandparent) dies, they need a baby to be born to “counteract” it, in a way.


ʻahaʻaina palala

This is the celebration after the child’s made one year, counted from birth (not conception). And then this is a celebration of the child surviving, which doesn’t have as many embedded traditions other than the physical ceremony where everyone celebrates the child passing the critical year mark. Usually this celebration is a lūʻau, a huge family gathering with traditional food, dance, music, and chants. A lot of preparation goes into the lūʻau and literally everyone comes because the first birthday is such a big deal.


How did you come across this folklore: “I’m in a Hawaiian Studies class called Hawaiian `Ohana, and we learn about the traditional family system from a particular area on the Big Island, and we chose this place because there’s a lot of history and traditional values that have been maintained from ancient times, which isn’t common around the rest of the islands in the state.”

Other information: “This is one of the most important ceremonies and traditions in the collection. When you’re born is a huge event, but coming of age—it happens when people have their baby’s first lu`au—it’s a ceremony that comes with it. Your first year is critical if you’re gonna make it, so it’s a big deal. That’s when the baby’s diet changes, when you start accepting that the baby’s gonna grow and be part of the community and stuff… but birth, naming, taking responsibility, etc. is a related ceremony all by itself.”

These ceremonies ritualize the transition from gestation to birth, and from birth to infancy in the life cycle. As my informant mentioned, even though the child is very young, this is kind of like a coming of age ceremony, when the baby essentially becomes a real person and therefore part of the community. Naming the baby officiates his/her presence in a family, which is marked by other parts of the ceremony, such as dedicating the baby to the family ‘aumakua, and is when parents/family members decide to acknowledge the baby and to take responsibility for him/her, to nurture and care for him/her.