By Swami Harshananda
Nāmakaraṇa literally means ‘the act of naming the baby’.
Namakaraṇa or the ritualistic act of giving a name to a newborn baby is an important sanskāra or sacrament in the life of a person. Almost all the devotees irrespective of their caste affiliations, have some sort of ritualistic or social pattern or method to be adopted in naming the baby.
Parts of Names in Ancient Times
During the Vedic age, the names of persons generally had two parts:
- The actual name
- The patronymic or metronomic
For instance, in the name Kākṣīvanta Auśija, the first is the popular name and the second derived from the name of his mother Uśijā. In the name Vidagdha Śākalya, the former is his name and the latter indicates that he was the son of Sakala. Sometimes the name could reflect the place also as in Kauśāmbeya.
Namakaraṇa as per Brhadāranyaka Upaniṣad
It is interesting to note that the Brhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad describes the nāmakaraṇa ceremony to some extent. Generally speaking, the nāmakaraṇa should be performed on a day after the tenth day of birth. It can be on the 11th, 12th or the 16th day. As regards the composition, the name of a boy should consist of two or four or an even number of syllables while that of a girl must have an odd number. Also, the name must begin with a mṛdu letter like ba, ga, da, and so on. The names may be derived from that of a deity or a sage or an ancestor. Though naming the girl-child after a river was prohibited in the earlier period, it is now quite common.
Namakaraṇa as per Dharmaśāstras
According to the dharmaśāstras, every child must be given a fourfold name according to the nakṣatra under which it is born, the deity of the month of birth, the family deity and a popular name, the last one being commonly used for all practical purposes. Each of the 27 nakṣatras has four pādas and certain letters of the alphabet are assigned to them. The child, male or female, born in that particular pāda must be assigned that name beginning with that letter. For instance, a baby born under Aśvinī 4th pāda must have a name beginning with ‘la’.
Deities of Month
As regards the deities ruling over the twelve months, all of them are aspects of Viṣṇu like Kṛṣṇa, Ananta, Hari, Upendra and so on. One of these is given depending upon the month. If a baby is born in the month of Mārgaśira its special name is Kṛṣṇa. The third is the name associated with the family deity the words dāsa, datta or bhakta being added at the end. For example, if the family god is Rāma, the child’s name will be Rāmadāsa or Rāmadatta or Rāmabhakta.
Parameters for Determining the Name
The last is the popular name which is used throughout life. It should be easy to pronounce and sweet to hear. It should also signify fame or wealth or power which everyone naturally desires to possess. It may be mentioned here, in passing, about the practice in some sections of the society, of giving awkward, disgusting or even repulsive names to their babies by the parents who have lost their previous issues, to frighten away the evil spirits, diseases and death.
Add on as per Scriptures
Some dharmaśāstras advocate the adding of the words śarma or deva, varma or trātā, bhuti or datta or gupta, and dāsa, at the end of the names given for the members of the four varṇas respectively. A brief account of the namakaraṇa ceremony as given by the gṛhyasutras like those of Śāṅkhāyana, Āśvalāyana and Pāraskara may now be given.
- After the expiry of the jātāśaucha period the house has to be washed and purified.
- The mother and the baby should be bathed.
- Then the mother gives the baby to the father.
- The father touches the breaths of the baby to awaken its consciousness.
- Then the name is given as follows. The father leaning towards the right ear of the babe addresses it thus:
‘0 child! thou art the devotee of the kuladevatā...., so thy name is....; thou art born in such and such māsa or month, so thy name is....; thou art born under such and such nakṣatra, so thy name is .....; and thy popular name is....’
- The brāhmaṇas assembled there should say, ‘May the name be established!’
- Then the father should make the baby salute the assembled brāhmaṇas who will bless it.
- Afterwards there will be a feast for all the brāhmaṇas and the relatives and friends.
- Pañcavanśa Brāhmana 14.11.17
- Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 3.9.1
- Kauśāmbeya was the resident of Kauśāmbi.
- Brhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 6.4.24-28
- Mṛdu letter is also called sonant.
- Nakṣatra means asterism.
- Pādas means quarters.
- It can be inferred as Lakṣmaṇa, Latā etc.
- It generally falls in December.
- Family deity means kuladevatā.
- Śāṅkhāyana 1.24.4
- Āśvalāyana 1.15.4
- Pāraskara 1.17
- It is the ceremonial impurity caused by the birth of the baby generally after ten days of birth.
- It means constellation.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore