Protocols for a Native American Naming Ceremony

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A Native American naming ceremony is a sacred religious event. The specific rituals and practices vary but some elements are common to all tribes. Native American religion was banned for a time by the U.S. government and changes have crept in among the old practices. But in essence, the meaning and reverence given to the ceremony has remained together with certain formalities.

Naming Traditions

In order to ceremonially receive a name, the recipient must be a Native American or formally adopted into a First Nation family. Some people receive more than one name in their lifetimes to reflect significant changes. For example, in some tribes a newborn baby will receive a name and when old enough to understand the meaning and importance of a name, he will receive another. Names often tend to reflect a certain trait or strength in the person, and are often represented by an animal symbolizing those strengths.

Requesting a Name

The person receiving the name first makes a request to an elder who will perform the ceremony. He offers the elder a gift of herbs or tobacco known as kicnic-kicnic. Passing the gift from left hand to left hand signifies heart to heart. It is important that in all occasions of giving and receiving gifts, no payment must ever be received otherwise the gift is void. Once the elder’s permission has been received, preparations for the ceremony can go ahead. The elder will consider an appropriate name that comes after much contemplation in a vision, dream or simply as a hunch. He will then keep it secret from everyone, including the recipient until the end of the ceremony.

The Ceremony

Suitable ceremonial regalia is worn if available, and all attendees dress appropriately showing a dignified, reverent attitude. The ceremony takes place outdoors and begins with a ceremonial fire being prepared, and a prayer circle formed around it with the recipient standing in the center. Four guides chosen by the elder are present to act as witnesses, and the recipient offers each of them a gift of herbs. Prayers are said, and the elder explain his reasons for choosing the name. He may also whisper it to the guides and ask their opinion. At the end of the ceremony he will announce what it is. The name is not valid immediately. The recipient must wait until deemed worthy of it by the elder and guides. This may take weeks or even years and the guides have the authority to remove the name if ever the recipient dishonors it.

After the Ceremony

The recipient of the name gives thanks to his sponsors and all those concerned by arranging a celebratory meal for everyone after the ceremony. Sometimes if more than one person is receiving a name they come together to prepare a for a group celebration. This is a joyful celebration, usually accompanied by music and song.