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You Are My Beloved, Part I --The Importance of a Name

You Are My Beloved
Part I -- The Importance of a Name

A new baby is born! His mother has carried this little one close to her heart for nine months. He was curled in a ball deep in her abdomen, listening to her heartbeat, finding comfort in the warm amniotic fluid. Then one day her body labored hard to push him into the world. Bright lights and loud noises cause him to scream, but he is comforted when placed next to his mother and hears her heartbeat that he knows so well. Family and friends are ecstatic and pass the word around the village, “Haissa had her baby! It’s a boy!” 

The mom returns home where she sits on her bed in a back room. Her mom, sisters, aunts, and friends wait on her hand and foot. They fix her food and bring it to her in bed. They prepare warm baths for her. Everybody coos and ga-gas over the new baby. The proud father sits outside, watching these proceedings, with a pleased smile on his face. 


But he’s busy, too, for in just a week a big party will take place at his house and he’s responsible to make sure it all happens … and to pay for it, too. A goat must be bought. He must hand out money to the baby's aunties to go buy ingredients for a feast. Somebody needs to buy kola nut and candy to hand out as invitations and more to hand out on the day of the celebration. Popcorn needs to be popped and put into bags for the children. Somebody needs to hire chairs and a tent for shelter from the relentless sun. And proud daddy is the one who needs to make sure the aunties do these jobs!

Meanwhile, Baby has no name. He is just Baby. Traditionally, and in rural areas still today, the father would go to the Muslim teacher, the imam, and report that a child has been born, give the imam the date of the naming celebration, and wait for the imam to give a name. In modern families, the father (maybe in consultation with the mom and maybe not) will go to the imam and tell him what name they want.

Finally, the eighth day arrives. Women were up late the night before, cooking what they could ahead of time.  

The sun rises and the hired tent and chairs arrive and are set up early. The women are in a bustle of activity, fixing enough food for a couple hundred people.

 One by one people arrive. The men are seated outside under the canopy. The women greet the men, then go inside where the mom sits on her bed, dressed in her best with Baby by her side. Each woman wants a turn holding the baby and telling the mother how ugly he is. They don’t want to say he’s cute or the evil spirits might come and take Baby. But everybody knows, even though they say he’s ugly, that they think he’s cute. 

Outside the men are talking at the same time, telling funny stories, laughing and carrying on.


Soon the imam stands up and there is silence. One of the women stations herself at the door of the house where she can see the men. The imam leads through a traditional Muslim prayer. At each point where hands are rubbed along the body to receive the blessing, the woman at the door yells, “Tuusu! Rub your hands on your body! Receive the blessing!” Between each “Tuusu!” the women chatter away, paying no attention to the prayer which they can’t hear. At the end of the prayer, the imam slits the goat’s throat and pronounces the name of the new baby. “Ibrahim!” he cries. The woman at the door yells to the women inside, “His name is Ibrahim!” 

Baby Ibrahim is handed to one of the women who is given the honor of announcing his name to him. She picks him up, puts her mouth up to his right ear and declares, “Krrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiii! Ibrahim! Krrrriiiiiiiiiii! Ibrahim!” Then she puts her mouth up to his left ear and declares again, “Krrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiii! Ibrahim! Krrrriiiiiiiiiii! Ibrahim!” He has now heard his name and knows he is Ibrahim for the rest of his life. 

But Ibrahim was born on Friday, the Muslim holy day. So nobody calls him Ibrahim. He is known as “Hamberi” or “Big Day” because he was born on Friday. His big sister is called Salamatou, but everybody knows her as “Dariijo” because she was born after twins. And the twins, the first-borns, are called Hassan and Housseini, because those are names always given to twin boys. First-borns are never called by their name by their parents, but are always given a nick-name; a nick-name is optional for other children.

A name has been given and a nick-name has been bestowed. Baby now has an identity, a place in the family and a place in the community. At only a few weeks old, he will respond to his name. As he grows up, he will build a reputation around his name. He will find pleasure when people call him by name in conversation and will resent it when he is called “Hey you!”
 or “Whats-his-name”. 

The poet Goethe wrote that a man’s name is “a perfectly fitting garment, which, like the skin, has grown over and over him, at which one cannot rake and scrape without injuring the man himself.”

Each of us has a name that our parents gave us at birth. That name is extremely important to us and we find pleasure when people use it in kind ways. We’ve built a reputation around that name. In town when your name is used, people imagine either someone kind and generous, or maybe bitter and mean, or perhaps a thief and liar. Hopefully not either of the last two!


My name is Nancy and as far as I know, my parents gave me that name just because they liked it. It was a name extremely popular from 1930-1960. Nancy means “grace” and other related names are Anna, Hannah, and Anne. My middle name is Evelyn, and I was named after my maternal grandma, Ada Evelyn. I found out that Evelyn used to be a surname and has no particular meaning. 

When I arrived in Nigeria in 1982 as a young single missionary, I met a Nigerian family who befriended me. The father of the family, Mr. Phar, told me I needed a Nigerian name. I told him he could have the honor of naming me, so he called me Hannatu. I was pleased when I figured out that Hannatu is the same name as Hannah in English. Since Hannah and Nancy are the same name, he had really given me my name over again. Now that I am living in Niger, the name still works, though in Niger I am often called Aminata, also a form of Hannah. If you follow my blog, you’ll know it’s called Hannatu’s Happenings, Hannatu being my African name. 

What is your name? Do you know the meaning of your name? Do you know the story behind your name or did your parents name you that just because they liked it? Were you named after anybody?

To be continued....Part 2, Names That Label Us
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