The naming of kids is a difficult matter. It isn’t just one of your holiday games…
~ T.S. Eliot’s A Practical Book of Cats (sort of)
I’m so excited! Our illustrious webmistress and esteemed friend had a baby this weekend! Pass the Topo Chico! Mom and son are in perfect health and everything is looking great. Except…kiddo doesn’t have a name yet. I’m going to tell on my friend (she’s in the hospital where she can’t hurt me). With their first child, it took them so long to finalize a name the hospital told them they couldn’t leave until they had something on the birth certificate.
But I get it. Naming a person…what a huge job. I can barely settle on names for my pets. Based on the stress naming Morgan leFay gave me, I’m actually kinda glad I’ll never have to name my children (being a foster parent and all).
This got me thinking about Norse naming practices, and I did some research on how my ancestors chose names. Naming in ancient Norse culture was, in fact, a HUGE deal. Like pretty much every historical society, exposure of infants was an accepted practice. When a baby was born, it still wasn’t considered a human being yet–a pretty far cry from our debates on when “life” begins! On the ninth day after birth, the father would officially claim the child as his own in a formal ceremony attended by family and friends. He’d put the baby on his knee, sprinkle him/her with water and give him/her a name. Upon being given a name, the child gained “personhood” as well as recognition as a member of the clan, and from thenceforth it was murder to kill him or her.
Choosing the right name was just as important then as it is today. One of the most common naming techniques was to name your children after an ancestor–particularly a famous one. Some Norse people believed in a limited form of reincarnation in which an ancestor’s spirit could be reborn into a child that was named after him or her. Some people instead believed the skills or, more importantly the hamingja (luck) of the honored ancestor would be bestowed upon the child.
While nowadays it’s still common to name children in honor of a relative or ancestor, the Norse did something that is much less common in Western society–they named the children after the gods they worshipped! Can you imagine meeting a baby named Jehovah? In Texas we occasionally see a Latino boy named Jesus (pronounced approximately like Hey-Soos), but I’ve never seen a WASP child named that. But the Norse considered it good luck and even a form of protection.
Finally, Norse names are almost always nouns or derived from nouns. While in America we do this to a certain extent (I had friends growing up named Summer and Charity), most of our names are not also common nouns. But Norse history and literature is filled with compound names such as Sigurd (victory-guardian) and Brunhild (armor-protector) and simple nouns like Bjorn (bear), Steinn (rock), Ulf (wolf), and Auðr (treasure).
Have you named somebody? What went into your thought process? Regardless of what name my friends settle on for their wonderful little boy, I wish them all the blessings in the world. I’d love it if you amazing members of the Realm would send a blessing or a well-wish to the happy family! (If you post it here, I’ll send it on to them!)
~ Featured Image: Crop from Goldwyn Pictures Baby Mine advert