Namasanskara
The birth of a child is a joyous and incredible occasion. Naming the baby is considered to be an auspicious and solemn ritual in cultures all over the world. In ancient Rome for example, the naming ceremony was a rite of passage by which the child gained acceptance and recognition into his family. In India, different castes and religions follow different traditions and procedures in the naming ceremony.

What is meant by Namasanskara (नामसंस्कार)?

Naamsanskar or naamkaran (नामकरण) means giving a name. The naming ceremony is held to give the newborn child his or her identity and is a big celebration with family and close friends.

When Is The Naamkaran (नामकरण) Ceremony Held?

Hindus believe that the proper rituals conducted during a naming ceremony pave the way for a good life for the baby. It is a celebration of having welcomed a good soul into the family. This ritual finds its origins in the Bhagwad Gita where it is first mentioned.
The ceremony is held anytime from the 11th to 13th day of the child’s birth but can be anytime before the first birthday. The first eleven days are considered inauspicious and the mother and child are said to be unclean. Hence, they are isolated till the 11th day. In some cultures, it is done after forty days.

Namasanskara (नामसंस्कार) Ceremony and Rituals

The Namasanskara ceremony is not the same in every culture in India. In the Hindu tradition it is performed by the priest or Pandit, but the rituals are different. In Hindu tradition a pooja (पूजा) or havan(हवन) is conducted for child’s well-being, long life, good health and happiness and also the child’s horoscope is created on the same day. Then the name is whispered in the child’s ear and then is officially announced. As per Sikh tradition, Hukam is read from the Guru Granth Sahib and the first letter of the Shabad (शबद) is given by the granthi (ग्रन्थी ) to choose the name for the child and according to tradition the baby girls have a suffix of Kaur and the boys have a suffix of Singh. In Maharashtra, Kolkatta and some communities in Gujarat, the father’s sister whispers the name of the child in his ears. In some, the father or mother whispers it in the child’s ear.In Kerala, the paternal grandmother whispers the name three times in the baby’s ear while the other ear is closed with a betel leaf. In most of these ceremonies though the mother and child are 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 ceremony.

Afterword, a black thread and gold chain around the baby’s waist or other gold or silver jewelry is sometimes adorned and the child’s eyes are lined with kajal and a black spot to ward off evil eyes. Some cultures give the baby a mixture of ghee and honey as a symbol of future foods. In some ceremonies, the baby is placed in a cradle decorated with flowers while women and children sing and dance in celebration and honey is applied on the baby’s lip by a respected relative.

Selecting The Baby’s Name

Hindu’s believe that the meaning of the child’s name permeates into his character and shapes his life. Hindu religious leaders advise keeping the baby’s name according to his sun sign or rashi (राशी). This is determined by the position of the planets at the time and date of birth. When a name is given that is out of sync with the planets position, ill-fortune can befall the child. Hindu astrologers also believe that the birth of every child is governed by a star or Nakshatra(नक्षत्र) .According to the date and time of birth of the child, a particular letter of the Sanskrit alphabet associated with the rashi (राशी) is selected which will spell good luck and fortune for the baby. The baby is then given a name starting with that letter.
There are plenty of astrologers who help ascertain the planets position and appropriate letter. Fortunately, most priests double as astrologers and can create these charts. After consultation, the name is carefully selected. These are usually based on the Nakshatra (नक्षत्र) name, the god of the month or the god’s name associated with the family.

Astrological Name and Official name

Sometimes the name given during a Namasanskara ceremony becomes the official name but nowadays a lot of parents are keeping the astrological name private, based on the letter that comes up and their comfort with the name chosen. There are also some rules that certain communities follow such as naming a girl with odd number of Sanskrit letters and boys with an even one.
Some people keep names depending on numerology, gemstones. Some choose to name their child after family God or Goddess or Guru whereas, some are named after celebrities or popular film stars, girls are named after flowers or nature. Some combine the names of parents and create a new name after it. In some communities it is important the child must be named after their grandparent (paternal).

In this way, baby naming ceremony is a way of welcoming and naming the new-born and as is in our culture, showering the child with blessings. The traditions and rituals performed are for the good health and life of the baby. Hindu culture recommends these traditions during the naming ceremony to cement the prosperous and good future life of the new-born baby.