A Naming ceremony ‘Namkaran’ (Sanskrit ‘nam’ = name; ‘karan’ = create) is an event during which a person  is officially assigned a name.

It is also called ‘Palanarohan’ in some traditions, which refers to putting a child in the cradle (Sanskrit ‘palana’ = cradle; ‘arohan’ = onboard). This is practiced in various countries, with a few ‘cultural’ variations.

The time of naming a child varies from case to case. From a few days after birth to several months or many years; to each his own.

Interestingly, even christians name their children as part of the ‘baptism’ ceremony, which often takes place on the eighth day of life. The ceremony is either held at home or in a church.

The time and participants

The Namakarma Sanskar is usually held after the first 11 nights of a baby’s delivery.

The parents of the newborn, the paternal and maternal grandparents and few close relatives and friends take an active part in naming the baby

In Maharashtra, Bengal, and among the Rajputs of Gujarat the paternal aunt has the honour of naming her brother’s child The child is dressed in new clothes and the mother wets the head of the baby with drops of water as a symbol of purifying the child.

In some communities, the baby is then handed over to the paternal grandmother or the father who sits near the priest during the ritual. The paternal aunt whispers the name of the newborn his or her in the ear and then announces it to the family and friends. In some communities or families, the sacred fire is lighted and the priest chants sacred hymns to invoke the Gods in heaven to bless the child. It is on this day that the baby is put into a cradle for the first time.

In Kerala, a black thread and gold chain called an aranjanam are tied around the baby’s waist on the 28th day. In certain parts of the state, it is performed on the 27th day, if it is a baby boy.

The ceremony

The child’s eyes are lined with mayye or kanmashi (Kohl). A black spot is placed on one cheek or asymmetrically on the forehead, to ward off the evil eyes. The grandfather whispers the chosen Hindu name in the child’s right ear three times while the left ear is covered with a betel leaf. This is then repeated on the left ear. A mixture of ghee (melted and clarified butter) or honey is given to the infant as a base for its various foods in the future. In some places, an arati is performed seven times with a lamp thread in a leaf.

Choosing the name

According to the date and time of birth of the child, a letter of the Sanskrit alphabet associated with the child’s solar birth sign (soorya Rashi) is chosen which would prove lucky for the baby. The baby is then given a name starting with that letter. The baby receives blessings from all, including the priests. An elaborate feast is organized for the priests and the guests, as a closing event of the ceremony.

Many Hindu families count on Vedic astrology to arrive at the name of a child. The initial letter is considered auspicious and is decided according to the ‘Janam Nakshatra‘ or birth star of the child, the position of planets at the time and date of birth, and the moon sign.

Sometimes a name is selected based on the name of the deity the month, or even a dead ancestor.

The principles

There are five general principles of naming: Nakshatranam (by lunar asterism); Masanam (according to the month of birth); Devatanama (after the family deity); Rashinama (according to Zodiac sign); and Samsarikanama (the worldly name), as an exception to all the above.

It is traditionally believed that a boy’s name should have letters in even numbers (2, 4, 6, 8) and girls should consist of odd numbered letters (3, 5, 7, 9), 11 being the best for both genders.

Some believe in selecting a child’s name based on his or her ‘Nakshatra’ or birth star as calculated by a Vedic astrologer during the Namkaran or naming ceremony. In the absence of a family astrologer, one relies on astrology websites to ascertain the Nakshatra based on the child’s birth date, time, and place.