Native American Names
Giving the Child a Name
This ceremony, formerly practiced among the Omaha and cognate
tribes, took place in the spring, "when the grass was up and
the birds were singing." A tent was set apart and made sacred
by the priest who had the hereditary right to perform the ceremony.
As the occasion was one of tribal interest, many people flocked
to the scene of the rite.
A large stone was brought and placed on the east side of the
fire that was burning in the center of the space inside the tent.
When everything was ready the old priest stood at the door awaiting
the arrival of the child. Then all the mothers who had children
of the proper age wended their way to this tent, each one leading
her little child, who carried in its hands a new pair of moccasins.
As the two reached the tent the mother addressed the priest,
saying: "Venerable man, I desire my child to wear moccasins." (This
was a symbolic form of expression.) "I desire my child to walk
long upon the earth, to be content with the light of many days.
We seek your protection!" The priest made a formal reply and
the little one, carrying its moccasins, entered the tent alone.
After a few ritualistic phrases the priest accompanied the child
to the fire place, where he and the child stood facing the East
while the priest sang an invocation to the Four Winds. He bade
them to come hither and stand in this place in four groups.
At the close of this Ritual Song the priest lifted the child
by the arms so that its little bare feet rested upon the stone,
as it faced the South; then he lifted the child again by the
arms and its feet rested on the stone, as it faced the West;
again the child was lifted and its feet were upon the stone,
as it faced the North; once more the priest lifted the child
and its feet touched the stone, as it faced the East. Then the
priest sang the following Ritual Song:
Turned by the Winds goes the one I send yonder,
Yonder he goes who is whirled by the Winds,
Goes where the four hills of life and the Four Winds are standing,
There into the midst of the Winds do I send him,
Into the midst of the Winds standing there!
This song and the entire ceremony, which is spoken of as "Turning
the child," are highly symbolic and cannot be fully explained
at this time. The Winds are the messengers of the great invisible
Wakon'da and bring the breath of life and strength to man. At
the close of this song the priest put the new moccasins on the
feet of the child and sang another Ritual Song which says:
Here unto you has been spoken the truth;
Because of this truth you shall stand.
Here declared is the truth;
Here in this place has been shown you the truth.
Therefore, arise! Go forth in its strength!
As the priest sang the last line he set the child on its feet
and made it take four steps toward the East; these steps are
typical of its now entering into life. Then the priest led the
child to the entrance of the tent, where he called aloud the
tribal name of the child, then for the first time proclaimed,
"Ho! Ye Hills, ye Grass, ye Trees, ye creeping things, both
great and small, I bid you hear! This child has thrown away its
baby name! Ho!"
All the children of the tribe passed through this ceremony and
in this way received their sacred personal names, which were
never dropped throughout their after-life, not even when a man
took a new name.