What’s in a name? My name is Zainab Mohiuddin. I’m 95% sure that yours consists of a forename and a surname and 60% sure you have a middle name. Maybe my numbers are inflated even now, but being in Bali made me realize it’s not always like this – Here are 4 alternative naming systems:
1. Balinese Naming System: What’s Your Number (birth not mobile)?
If you walk around in Bali, you quickly notice how everyone is called Made or Ketut. A Wayan will proudly say “I am number one!” Why?
Balinese names depend on the birth order of a person, regardless of their gender.
– First born names: Wayan, Putu, Gede
– Second born names: Made, Kadek, Nengah
– Third born names: Nyoman, Koman
– Fourth born names: Ketut
In order to avoid confusion, parents can give their children a second name, like ‘Suardika’, which means ‘guiding light’. So you could have a Wayan Suardika – the second name is not a surname though.
So, if a family has 10 kids, what do they do? Fear not, fifth child, you have a name! Kid number five can be referred to as ‘Wayan Balik’ or ‘little Wayan’. ‘I’ is the prefix for men and ‘Ni’ for women. So, Ni Ketut Suardika is a fourth-born girl who has been nicknamed ‘guiding light’.
Find out more on Balinese art and culture with a visit to a village HERE 🙂
2. Inuit Naming System: Long Live Kinship
The Inuit people from the Canadian arctic circle have a unique system by which children are sometimes named after relatives or respected friends. Calling people in terms of kinship ties follows the tradition of tuqłurausiit and its purpose is to foster closeness within families and ensure that relatives live on in life, even after death.
So if a child is named after their grandfather, his parents and aunts and uncles would traditionally call him ‘ataataga’, which means ‘beautiful father’. However, today more and more Inuit people refer to each other by English first names rather than through kinship terms.
What is your Inuit Name? Find out HERE 🙂
3. Chinese Naming System: Family First
Mao Zedong. If you’re Western like me, you would’ve reflexively thought that his mum was a Mrs Zedong and she called her baby ‘Mao’. Quite the opposite – The Chinese naming system puts the family name (xìng) first and given name (míng) second. Because of China’s historic influence over South East Asia, Vietnam and Korea also use this system.
In China, the 100 most common family names account for over 85% of China’s population of 1.38 billion. On the other hand, given names are much more varied and are made up from scratch to mean something – e.g. ‘Xiao-Long’ means ‘little dragon’. It’s the complete opposite to the Western naming system again, because while I know lots of people with ‘John’ as a first name, Westerners have a much bigger variety of surnames around.
What is your Chinese name? Find out HERE 🙂
African Naming Systems: It’s All About The Circumstances
Events surrounding the birth of a child are significant in the naming systems of different African countries.
Circumstances of the Birth:
In Nigeria, ‘Ayodele’ meaning ‘joy has come home’ is a unisex name for a baby whose birth brought happiness to their parents.
‘Ajuji’ meaning ‘born on a rubbish heap’ is a Hausa name given to a baby that came after several miscarriages. It is believed that giving the child a “terrible” name will trick evil spirits into thinking the child is worthless and as a result, allow it to live.
‘Adetokunbo’ meaning ‘crown/wealth has come back home’ is a unisex Yoruba name often given to a child born abroad.
If you’re a twin, the Yorubas would tell you apart by naming the first twin ‘Taiwo’ meaning ‘taste the world’ and the second Kehinde ‘came after’. If I was Kehinde, I would be annoyed at this.
Some Ghanian ethnic groups Akan, Ga, Ewe and Nzema assign a name for the day a child was born:
So, if you were born on a Monday, you’d be called ‘Kojo’ as a male and ‘Adwoa’ as a female. Here are the rest of the days. Which one are you? I think I’m an Abena.
Monday – Kojo (male), Adwoa (female)
Tuesday – Kwabena (male), Abena (female)
Wednesday – Kwaku (male), Ekua (female)
Thursday – Yaw (male), Yaa (female)
Friday – Kofi (male), Efua (female)
Saturday – Kwame (male), Ama (female)
Sunday – Akwesi (male), Akosua, (female)
Time can be more than just the day. The Hausa name ‘Yunwa’ means ‘hunger or time of famine’ and the Luo name ‘Ochieng’ means ‘sunny midday’ for if you were came out at 12pm sharp!
I hope you’ve learnt something and have an appreciation for the thought that goes into a name from different perspectives – I certainly do. Leave a comment with your thoughts and quiz results, I’d love to know. Do you know of any more alternative naming systems? 😊.