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Naming Your Newborn; What Is In a Name?

Updated on June 26, 2012

Naming Your New Born; What Is In a Name?

There is no greater joy than that of good news that a woman will soon become a mother. Her mind starts to wonders with excitements about the baby; will she/he be a boy or girl, and would she be more like Mommy or daddy? Then comes the first visit to the health clinic for ultrasound scanning. The parents may not hold back their tears as they stare at their baby’s movements from the scanning machine. As they head back home, one thing is certain. They have to decide on the baby’s name real soon before the baby is delivered. So what is in a name that the family of a new born has to take time to carefully pick one? There are various ways that people from different continents of the world name their newborns. As the children grow up and learn more about names, they start to ask about the significance of their names. During their teenager years, as they struggle with “Identity versus Role Confusion” as termed by Erick Erickson, they may be challenged to change their names to suit their taste and also to be compatible with peers. So what will make parents to finally settle on a certain name? There are several options that parents from different nationalities name their babies.

1. Pick a name from a book or from the website.

There are several books that have baby names e.g. The Complete Book of Baby Names by Lesley Bolton. Parents can also get names from various websites e.g. The parents will go through a rigorous process of picking a name that has special meaning, portray their heritage, uniqueness, the most sophisticated and the one that is more appealing to them.

2. A combination of both parents names.

Everyone wants their child name’s to be sophisticated and unique with less people having somewhat an identical name. The name should also have a sense of belongingness. So you find a child with the name Chardtella, which is a combination of the last five letters of dad’s name Ri-chard and five last letters of the Mother’s name Stella.

3. Parents or grandparents name

Some families just name the child after dad’s name e.g. Martin Luther III or Junior. The only way to tell the difference between the dad’s name from his son is the Roman numerals at the end of the name or terms that indicates a rank. The other communities have to follow a traditional cultural way of naming their children. For example, for a kikuyu tribe in Kenya, the first born son will automatically be given the paternal grandfather’s name. The first born daughter will take the paternal grandmother’s name. The second born son will be named after the maternal grandfather and the second born will take the maternal grandmother’s name. So it is not surprising to find a Nelson Maina in the families of four brothers because they all have the same paternal grandfather’s name for their first born sons (Gikuyu, 2012). This traditional naming strategy has faced some criticism especially from the mothers in that the family has to have more than two children for the mother to get a chance to name her parents as well.

4. Names picked when the child coughs or cry.

In some African communities, naming the child is a communal event. The women will surround the baby and the utter one name at a time, especially the names of those who have passed on. When the child cries or coughs at the mention of a certain name, the child will be given that particular name. The community believes that the spirit of the death has reincarnated through the child. The child therefore is expected to portray the qualities and characteristics of that diseased person.

5. Circumstances & locations

Some parents can decide to name their children based on circumstances or locations of their birth. There have been cases when the mother realizes that the time has come and the father tries his best to drive fast to the hospital; but then the baby is ready to come right away. The father is forced to pack the car by the road side and follow the delivery instructions from the dispatcher until the paramedic arrive at the scene. The parents may decide to name the child after the street he/she was born e.g. Beltline. The ancestors from kipsigis community used to name their child after natural weather disasters. They also had names for children born outside the house and those born in a hurry or were not expected. Though this community maintains their ancestral naming system to this day, they also name their children by the time they were born. In this community, one can tell the time and place that, that child was born just by the child’s middle name. One can also tell whether the child is a boy or a girl. They use the prefix “Ki” for a boy and “Che” for a girl e.g. Kipkelum is a boy while Chepkelum is a girl (kalenjin, 2012).

6. “Edit” and/or Add

When the child grown ups, they decide to change or shortened their names. The name now becomes Tina instead of Clementine or Al instead of Allan, Joe instead of Joseph. Sometime these names are called nicknames. In most cases though, these are used casually and not in formal cases. As the child grows up and becomes a scholar and a professional, they add different salutation to portray their academic credentials and achievements. So when you see a Dr. before the name or PhD at the end of a person’s name, you will know that person has attained the highest education level any continent can offer. The initial M.D. means that individual is a medical doctor.

The subject of naming children is broad and cannot be exhausted. Every parent has his/her own way of picking a wonderful name for his/her bundle of Joy. The naming of the child can be affected by the culture, religion, what is recommended, what is prohibited, what is dislike, what is popular and what is considered as unusual. The name can say so much about an individual and his/her roots and cultural heritage. Recently, I shocked when I saw a family who had named their five year old son, Fidel Castro. I just wondered ‘why’ and if they actually knew the evils that this person had committed. But then again, I tried not to be judgmental for parents always have valid reasons as to why they give their children certain names. It is recommended, that parents should put themselves in their baby’s shoes as they pick a name and imagine how they would feel if they were called by that name.


Bolton, L. (2009). The Complete Book of Baby Names. Naperville, IL; Sourcebook.Inc,

Gikuyu. (2012). Countries and their cultures. Retrieved from

Kalenjin. (2012). Countries and their cultures. Retrieved from

Moss, J. (1996-2012). Baby names, naming the world…one baby at a time. Retrieve from


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