Culture

Child Naming Customs among the Ameru

meru african child naming

Child Naming was traditionally a very serious affair among the Ameru. Why? One, the Ameru believed that the child’s name was a determinant of what the child really was. Secondly, it was sacrifice to God and the ancestors.

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When a baby was born, the world was informed through ululation or nkemi. 3 nkemi meant that the child was a boy and 2 meant that the child was a girl. And this is where the child’s naming process started, though well in advance…

Because when a child was born, mother and child were confined for nine days; and the child could not be taken out until the period was over and the naming ceremony done.

Naming the Child after Someone Else (Guchiarwa).

Children were always named after someone else higher up in the lineage. According to The Ameru, the family tree had to be preserved and the best way was to progressively name children after those that came before.

If the first born was a boy, he was to he named after the father’s father and if it was a girl, she was to be named after her father’s mother (paternal grandparents).

The second born would go to the mother’s side in the same way: Boy named after the mother’s father and girl named after the mother’s mother.

The third born would go back to the father’s side… and it would always alternate.

However, there are some clans that would reserve the first two births for the father’s family if they are both a boy and a girl.

Naming after (or guchiarwa) would be either the actual name of the person the child is being named after, or depicting one of his qualities. For example, if the person was a good herdsman, the child could be named Murithi or Mutwiri.

The Naming Ceremony

On the ninth day of confinement, the naming ceremony was performed by the child’s father, paternal uncle, paternal grandfather, or any close male relative of the father.

A ditch would be dug across the door where the mother and child were in Confinement, and filled with water. The child was then put on the back of a single-coloured lamb, and led out of the hut, across the ditch. This was done 4 times, each time the priest of the day, saying:

“[Name] had crossed the big waters”.

The child was then anointed with white soil (Îra) and declared free to roam the world.

The following day, day 10, women prepared a huge party called Mpenjo e Mwana (Shaving of the Child). The baby was literally shaved to signify, officially, their introduction to the public. That’s when people brought their gifts.

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So, the child held that name till circumcision when “the old things would end, and they would become a new creature”… (I have borrowed that from the Bible). On circumcision, the candidate would take up a new name, chosen by the family, based on the qualities of the child’s parents, and prefixed Nto (M’) for boys…err men, and Cia (meaning mother) for girls.

For example, if the father was known to be a kind person (Muntû o kîao); the boy’s new name would be M’Ikiao. The girl’s name would be Ciabaikiao.

Read: What the M’ in Meru Names means.

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3 Comments

  1. Sometimes generalizing these issues can be misleading. You will find that certain things were not common among all the Ameru groups. For example among Tharaka people, when a child was born – a boy received 4 ululations and girl received 8. The 8 ululations for the girls meant that the first dowry to be paid was for eight goats. Again number 4 is sacred. The mother was also secluded for 4 days before the shaving of the baby hair. And in this case, I would like to know which particular Meru community had 3 ululations for boy and 2 for girl because not all the Meru communities? Even the order of naming children after certain people in the family differed. In Tharaka there is certain order – whereby your first born boy may not necessarily be born after your father if he is the last born in their family.

    Reply
    1. Hello, Simon. Thanks for the feedback.

      The challenge that we have is that Meru is so diverse. Sometimes cultures may not match from sub-tribe to sub-tribe… and sometimes we may not know as our sources may be from one that is not the same with the other.

      That said, you sound like you know a lot of Tharaka culture. We would love to get some insights. Maybe we could start a Tharaka section, ran and moderated by you. 🙂

      Tell us what you think.

      Reply
  2. Pius kiogora

    Hi mwenda, thanks a lot for the work you are doing, how can one get to know about the ameru clans,and also I read somewhere about a Meru sub tribe called mitiine,ever heard of it?

    Reply

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