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Ojibwe Naming Ceremony

Updated on August 10, 2012

Traditional Ojibwe Naming Ceremony

I come from a pretty diverse background. My father is mostly Ojibwe but has some French in him. As does many Ojibwe considering our history with the French. My mother is mostly Danish but has some other European backgrounds and some Native American in her as well. I consider myself to be a "mutt', meaning I have a lot of different ethnic backgrounds in me.

Native Americans have this belief of being named so the Great Spirit will know who you are when you pass on to the next world. I was named "Bineshii" meaning bird. My sister and brothers were also named, all different names of course. Although I knew about this ceremony and tradition, I had never attended one.

When my daughter was born, I knew I would want her named in the traditional way eventually. Time passed and she was a little over 1 year old and decided it was time. I had no idea about how I was supposed to plan this. I knew a medicine man was to give a person their name and there was a ceremony to go with it. I had thought they needed to meet the person wanting a name, dream about that person and then the medicine man would discover their "Indian" name. I asked a friend of mine about how to find a medicine man, she recommended someone that my father-in-law just happened to know. After a few weeks, we got in contact with this man. I asked him to name my daughter and he briefly spoke about what was to happened. He was a very busy man and his only availability for awhile was less than a week away. I had little time to plan for this but I was grateful he would do it.

I invited a lot of family but many could not attend due to the short notice. It was kind of funny how the people my daughter was closest to attended. The medicine man had later said that, "The people here today are suppose to be here. It is no coincidence that they are here." That really amazed me.

Before the ceremony began, he explained to me and my boyfriend what was going to happen and what we needed to do. He let us know that our daughter would need at least 2 guardians to watch, protect and guide her if anything should happen to my boyfriend or I. My cousin had recently been named and told me how she thought we needed our daughter's guardians to have "Indian" names as well. I asked him about this and he said yes. Problem...only one of the guardians had a name. He then explained that he could take the place as her guardian until the other had received his name. We were very grateful.

After a naming ceremony, there is a feast to celebrate. We had tons of food ready. You are to give a medicine man tobacco before asking him to name or help you in whichever way you would need. The medicine man told us to place the food served onto this blanket he had placed on the ground. We had a platter full of food and I had also made a plate for my daughter's guardians. He began telling us how he started doing naming ceremonies. He explained that he stopped smoking tobacco in a pipe because there were too many respiratory problems among children. He told us how my father-in-law came to him asking to name our daughter, he took tobacco out himself since we were quite a distance away to ask him properly. He prayed for her. It shocked me when he began telling us what these spirits had told him about our daughter. "The spirits told me about her dancing spirit". I was shocked, my daughter is constantly dancing and no one told him about that. He said that feathers were very important and they belonged to certain people. He had a feather that he had owed for a very long time, the spirits told him to give his feather to my daughter. "I don't know why they wanted this but they said she would need it later in life." Being a mother, I was somewhat worried about that statement but I know it's for the best.

He began praying in Ojibwe. After about 20 minutes or so, he said her name and said "This is her name. This is what you call her." He spoke so fast and I'm not that fluent in Ojibwe to know what he said. He later said it again, "Zhaawanagabo Ikwe. South Standing Woman." It had been done! I was so happy. I felt relieved and I didn't realize why. Everyone ate and celebrated after. He stayed for awhile and made his journey home.

I later found out how everyone that was there, it had been their first time at a naming ceremony. That included myself. I was happy to give everyone that experience. I feel it made them a little prouder of our culture. I hope it encouraged them to become a little more traditional.

Many compare a naming ceremony to a baptism. I guess in a lot of ways it is similar. They are blessed and named for their "God" or "Great Spirit" to recognize them and accept them into the next world when their time comes. I never have been to a ceremony before, I didn't know what to say when people began asking me if my daughter was suppose to get a card or present. I was completely clueless. I told them, "I don't think so." A couple of them were very kind to give cards, gifts and money to her for the occasion.

I'm very proud to be Ojibwe and wish I was taught more about the "old" and "traditional" ways by my family. Even though the older generation did not teach the younger ones traditional ways or our language, I brought it on myself to learn. Many of our family members did the same. It amazes me to see how our younger daughters, sons, nieces, nephews and cousins are learning many of the things we didn't. There are many that still don't know but most of the children that live on the reservation are being taught these things in school. I think that's very good and wish it could be like that in the cities as well. Maybe one day it will and Native American children will know their language and history better than the older ones do.


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