There is an ever-increasing trend of naming children with “different” names in the western world. Whether it be the unwitting Chav-tastic parent choosing Chlamydia because they liked the sound of it, or the braying Sloane spelling Georgia with 2 Js so she’s the only one in her class, different names are everywhere.
There is even a section dedicated to it in our NZ “That’s Life” magazine, and about half the names are made up ones, where the parents have dismantled a perfectly ordinary name, added the initials of the family dog and an obscure reference to where the child was conceived and VOILA, Rrachbedel was born.
However, the other half of the names seem to have a significant meaning for the parents. The name of a beloved family member, the mother’s maiden name, something meaning “gift” “beautiful” or “precious” in another language and I started to wonder about it all.
We named our children in a fairly traditional Maori way, in that they are named after important members of our family. Mapera Teddie is named after both my Grandmothers; Mabel and Edwina (who most people knew as Teddie). Kaitereo Helen is named after my Mother-in-law and my husband’s grandmother. My mother-in-law is known as Mary, but her birth certificate says Kaitereo. When she was a child, the Maori language was forbidden to be spoken, so her name was changed to an English one. Hakopa Tom is named after his Daddy’s middle name Jacob, and my brother Thomas.
There is another, older Maori tradition of naming your child after an event that happens around the time of their birth. Yes, I know you’re all thinking of that hilarious joke about the Native American boy with brothers named Flying Eagle and Running Bear, but this is true and taken very seriously by a lot of really big scary people over here, so no jokes please!
We have relatives whose names mean something along the line of “terrible tragedy” and I asked Tareka about them. One was named this way because some close family friends were killed in a car crash, and the other was named so because there had been a lot of children die from influenza in the year they were born. I asked him why people would give their children names with such negative connotations, and he wasn’t sure how to answer, so we asked our Kaumatua.
The reasoning behind this naming practice is because the events are important historically. The Maori language and culture is based on spoken word, not written, so this is a way of connecting people to their family, their history and their land. When you introduce yourself in Maori, you tell people where you are from before you give your name. This means people know who you are and who your family is and where in the family you are connected to them.
So, whether the event was a tragic or a happy one, the name lets people know that you were born during a particularly important time and that you are linked to your people in a way that (as a Westerner) I don’t think I will ever properly understand.
However, if you call your kid Marshmallow, then that’s just mean.