In traditional African society, the naming ceremony announces the birth of a newborn, introduces the child to his or her extended family and the larger community, and above all, it confers on the child a name.
The name given to a baby can have an enduring influence on their personality and upbringing. Usually, the circumstances surrounding the birth of an African child coupled with several factors influence the names parents choose for their children.
African names reveal a lot of information about a baby ranging from emotions, events surrounding the birth, culture, order of birth, day of birth, faith, time of the day or season and ancestry.
Naming ceremonies are practised by many countries in Africa with methods differing over cultures and religions. The timing at which a name is assigned can vary from some days to months after birth.
In some rare cases, as in the case of the Borana people, it takes years to name a baby.
The Borana Oromo are currently located in Ethiopia and Kenya, with a few in Somalia. They are also called the Boran, a subethnic section of the Oromo people who live in southern Ethiopia (Oromia) and northern Kenya.
They speak a dialect of the Oromo language that is distinct enough. The Borana people are notable for their historic Gadaa political system and they follow their traditional religions – Christianity and Islam, according to accounts.
Unlike the other African countries, when a baby is born in the Borana community, a name is not instantly given to the child until the child turns 2 or 3-years. They give the child a name in a special ceremony two or three years after the child has been born.
This means that naming ceremonies only happen occasionally among the Boranas. There are specific names for specific children; some names are said to be preserved for firstborns only.
A Kenyan elder, Kosi Billingaa, in an interview with BBC, revealed that until the children are named, they are called random names.
Quite a number of people would be wondering why it takes such a long time to name a child and why the names of the babies are not determined before they are born.
But what makes this interesting is that Africa is home to many unique people and culture. According to Billingaa, their naming culture was inherited from their forefathers.
Another interesting twist is that when the time is nigh for the naming ceremony, which involves a gathering of community members, parents who are unable to hold the ceremony probably due to financial constraints can seek help from relatives.
The actual day of the naming ceremony is determined by the elders and the festivities, which include blessing, singing, dancing and eating, could last for three days.
The Borana are one of the resulting groups of Oromo migrants who were reported to have left the southern highlands of Ethiopia in the 1500s. The Oromo had migrated east but were pushed back by the Somali leading to greater southern expansion.
There are almost 4 million Borana people mostly living in Ethiopia, according to reports.
The Ethnologue reports that ethnic Oromo in Ethiopia number about 30,000, making the cluster as a whole the largest cultural-ethnic block. These various Oromo groups speak several languages that are not mutually intelligible.
“Eight days before the ceremony, a large hut, the Galma, is built and the child’s father invites the family’s numerous relatives to the naming ceremony. Each guest to the event brings an Oodha full of curdled milk as a gift and that is why the ceremony takes place after the heavy spring rains have greened up pastures that provide abundant forage for cows,” a report on SouthWorld explaining the details of the naming festivities said.
“The arrival of the guests from the nearby villages indicates that the party is about to start. Seven people, the Torban, help the baby’s father throughout the event,” the report added.
It further said that “two sticks, five twigs (one of which is bigger than the others), and a big branch are placed in a row before the entrance of the cow fence. One of the sticks, the Wades, is for the baby’s father; the other, the Danis, is for the baby.”
“Two of the twigs, the Ootti, are placed above the door of the Galma; the others, including the largest one, are put on the wall at the bottom of the hut. The branch, called Gulanta, is located in the center of the place.”
The following video has more (click on the picture):
"We don't name children just after they are born. We wait."
The Borana people of Ethiopia & Kenya can wait up to three years after their children are born to name them. It all revolves around this traditional ceremony...
Theodora Aidoo is a Staff Writer and a young woman who is passionate about women-related issues. Her Love: To bring to fore the activities of women making a global impact. This stems from her journalism background from the Nigerian Institute of Journalism and Ghana Institute of Journalism.