- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Many cultures have traditions that are unique, ancient, even mystical ways of bestowing names upon children.

That includes making up names. In America, two cultures in particular — the black and Mormon communities — are well-known for inventing names, says Pamela Redmond Satran, author of eight books on baby naming. Both cultures began the practice to create their own identities, Ms. Satran says.

“When slaves were first brought here, slave owners typically gave blacks biblical names that were not used by whites,” she says. “Then the tradition moved into being known by the slave owners as one thing and by the family as another.”

After the Civil War, naming records began to include women’s names with -inda (such as Clara becoming Clarinda) as blacks began to forge an identity that was separate and unique. That segued into the practice of suffixes such as -on, -won, -quon and -el for boys (Juwon and Ronel, for example), and prefixes such as Shan-, Ka-, and La- and suffixes such as -isha and -el for girls. Examples: LaKeisha, Monisha, Danell.

“African Americans were the first in this country to start inventing names,” Ms. Satran says. “In a way, whites have imitated that as they tried to find out-of-the-ordinary names.”

Mormons also have given children invented names — or at least names with inventive spellings — for years, says Cari Clark, a Springfield woman who founded a Web site devoted to creative Utah baby names.

“Many times people will blend two names together to use some really wild spellings or the prefixes La- or Da-,” says Mrs. Clark, who lists thousands of names on her site. ” A lot of families are large, so they want each child to have a unique name. Also, many families in Utah have common names such as Clark, Smith or Young, so they try for an extraordinary given name to offset the ordinariness.”

Some of the names listed by Mrs. Clark: Alinda, AndiOdette, Breawn, DeVaughn, Dwendle and Claron.

“I once had a friend named M’Lou,” she says, “and I know of a Cliphane (rhymes with Tiffany).”

Other distinctive cultural practices:

Jews with roots in Eastern Europe commonly name their child after a deceased relative. The custom is based on a superstition from the Middle Ages that the Angel of Death may mistakenly take the child away if his namesake should die. Sephardic Jews (those hailing from the Mediterranean) name their child after a living relative in order to give the youngster a role model.

Catholic tradition is to name a child after a saint. That can be found in the United States, but also in many countries, such as Italy and throughout Latin America, where there are large numbers of Catholics.

Many Muslim children are named after the prophet Mohammed or members of his immediate family. This is why the name Mohammed, along with its variants, is one of the most popular names in the world, says Sonia Weiss, author or “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Baby Names.”

In many Eastern cultures, such as in China and India, families choose names that have great symbolical meaning. Pam Jah, a Reston woman who is originally from India, chose the names Rohit (“red”) and Ankit (“conquered”) for her sons.

“I wanted to give them traditional Indian names,” says Mrs. Jah, whose given Indian name is Padmja (“lotus”). “A lot of times, children will be given two names, one for at school and another for at home.”

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