Wednesday, August 17, 2011

cross cultural marriage: naming babies

I haven't done a culture post in a long, long time. I've been busy being Mom, I suppose. Rodgers and I had this discussion again recently, so here it is for your enlightenment.

Naming conventions in Rodgers' tribe are extremely complex. Our generation has started to simplify things a bit, but still tradition is hard for me to grasp. He has explained their baby name system to me a gazillion times, and each time, I retain a tiny bit more. This is what I've got so far:
  1. Everyone has a given name.
  2. They do not have surnames as we do. 
  3. If someone's given name is a Gyriama or Swahili name, they may take an "English" name if they convert to Christianity. At that point, they may go by their English name followed by their given name, such as Rachel Furaha. Or they may go by their English name followed by their clan name (see #4); I haven't learned which is common.
  4. Everyone is given a clan name, which is passed down from 2 generations ago and based on birth order. For example, Rodgers and his brothers are named for their father's paternal uncles (and father). Vita was the second born boy in that family, so all of the second born boys in Rodgers' generation have Vita as their clan name. Wishing to distinguish himself from his cousins, Rodgers spells his Vitah. Most people will use their clan name as their second name, since they do not use a surname. Girls would get their clan names from their father's maternal aunts (and mother), in birth order. 
  5. Our generation doesn't always follow the birth order in giving their children clan names. Also, they take the liberty of naming their children for the mother's side of the family if they choose. Progressive!
  6. My father-in-law liked English names and many of his children (Rodgers included) have English names for given names. For a long time, I thought Vitah was Rodgers' given name, and he took the name Rodgers when he converted to Christianity. Not so. He never chose an English name because he already had one. My father-in-law had only a Gyriama name and never took an English name. He loved the name Joseph, though, and we suspect that if he had taken an English name, that would have been it. This is why Nate's middle name is Joseph.
  7. By tradition, Nate's clan name should be the name of my father-in-law's oldest brother, and Baby Brother should be named for the second born. If Baby Brother were a girl, her clan name should be my mother-in-law's oldest sister. However, we aren't following tradition (see #5).
  8. When Rodgers had his birth certificate and passport made, he used his father's given name as his surname, listing his clan name as his middle name. This is why Nate and I do not use the name Vitah. We use my father-in-law's given name as our surname. None of my brothers- or sisters-in-law do. By Kenyan tradition, it doesn't make sense for us to go by his name. The kids should go by Rodgers. I wouldn't legally change my name if I were Kenyan. I would be known as Rachel Rodgers or Mama Rodgers until our first child was born, at which point I'd become Mama Nathanael. But, Rodgers and I came to the conclusion that we should all have the same legal surname, just to simplify life. However, Kenyans don't know Rodgers by that name. He is still Rodgers Vitah to them.

3 comments:

  1. Ha, yeah! Just wait til the next discussion and she understands more and has to change some 'understanding' she just explained, which is wrong. Are we clear or should we go over it again? Sometimes I just have to listen, knowing I am not going to understand anymore of Rodgers' culture that day. Makes life interesting!

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  2. As soon as Rodgers reads this post, he'll make some corrections, I'll think I understand and post an amendment, then that will turn out to be wrong, too. :P

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