Cieonna Srinath is just a-month-old but she is she has already garnered a lot of the centre of attention that Sunday morning. It is the day of her naming ceremony, and her parents Dr Gopi Nath Sivasubramaniam and Dr Subasi Armon have prepared a grand celebration.
In the hall, there is a baby dais complete with a cot, balloons, flowers, throw pillows, shimmering lights and her name on the backdrop. For the auspicious event, pink tents have been erected across the garden. Caterers have set up a lavish vegetarian spread for close to 100 guests, comprising family members and friends.
They chat and mingle as they wait for priest S.K. Shivarama Sivachariar to conduct the auspicious rites.
“The namkarna (naming ceremony) is an important ritual for Hindus. My daughter’s chosen name is symbolic of her identity,” says Cieonna’s father.
A naming ceremony is a religious or cultural event where a child/infant is given his/her name.
It is practised in many communities. The Christians have their christening ceremony, the Muslims the akibah and cukur jambul ceremony, the Chinese the full moon ceremony and the Jewish their brit shalom.
Although traditions vary, these naming ceremonies are generally held to welcome the newborn into the family, to introduce the baby to relatives and friends, and to offer blessings and good wishes to the child.
A naming ceremony is also a significant milestone because names are meaningful, and some even believe they affect the fate of its bearers.
Some babies are named to honour family members. In some African tribes, a child’s name is based on the location and circumstances of the baby’s birth.
When selecting their child’s name, parents look into finer details such as meaning, significance, spelling and potential for ridicule.
Some parents prefer distinctive names for their offsprings. Actor Nicolas Cage named his son Kal-El, after comic book superhero Superman’s birth name.
British chef Jamie Oliver is inspired by nature and flowers; his daughters are Poppy Honey Rosie and Petal Blossom Rainbow.
Written in the stars
Dr Gopi first held the namkarna seven years ago, for his first child, Bhiren. The occasion was held on the 31st day after a child’s birth, in accordance to the family’s Sri Lankan Tamil traditions.
He explains that the ritual can be traced back to a time when neonatal mortality rates were high due to harsh conditions, prevalence of epidemic infections and poor medical facilities.
“Prior to the completion of the first month, the newborn is not given a name, so that emotional attachments are not formed should the child dies.
“During the first month, the family will observe a period of taboo. They are prohibited from participating in any auspicious functions, especially in temples. Within this period, they cannot pray at the home altar,” says Dr Gopi.
If the newborn completes his first month of life, the family will have a celebration, in the form of a naming ceremony.
For the Hindus, a newborn’s name is chosen based on astrology and numerology.
“It is in the belief that a baby who has a name with good positive phonation and vibes will be blessed with good fortune and prosperity,” adds Dr Gopi.
In Hindu tradition, a child’s name is chosen based on the syllable associated with the nakshatra (star) under which the child was born.
There are 27 nakshatras in the Hindu solar system. Each nakshatra has four syllables associated with it. The child is given a suitable name based on his/her nakshatra and syllable.
“When a child is born, a Hindu priest is consulted to determine which nakshatra the child was born under (based on the time and date of birth). The priest will also impart the syllables associated with the nakshatra. Armed with this information, the parents will select a suitable name,” says Dr Gopi, 43.
Cieonna was born under the nakshatra “shatabhista” with the corresponding syllables of Go, Sa, Si and Su.
Dr Subasri considered a few names including Gokhula and Sulaksha for her daughter but the names did not fulfill the numerology requirements.
“My wife and I were cracking our heads to come up with a modern sounding Hindu name with the phonations we both liked.
“After browsing many baby name websites, I came across the name Siona, a Sanskrit word which means ‘light of a star’.
“The next step was to construct a name that satisfies the numerology rule. After altering the letters to suit the numerology, we settled on the spelling Cieonna.”
These days, parents can browse various numerology websites that offer this service, all at a few clicks of the mouse. All one has to do is input the time, date and place of birth, and the website will generate the nakshatra, syllables and even name suggestions.
But Dr Gopi and Dr Subasri sought the advice of experienced astrologers for their child’s name.
“One must know how to use the tool wisely. An input of wrong information, especially the place of birth (as time differs with geographical locations, and therefore, placements of nakshatras and planets) would yield incorrect interpretations.
“It is best to sought naming services from astrologers who can give detailed readings and remedial solutions,” says Dr Gopi.
Rituals and significance
On the morning of the naming ceremony, Cieonna and her mother were given a floral bath with scented flowers. The bath signifies the washing away of impurities during the confinement period.
When Shivarama arrives, he quickly sets up the prayer items on the floor. They include oil lamps (symbol of enlightenment), fruits (spiritual maturity), coconut (a symbol of our thoughts and egos), turmeric (purity, fertility and luck) and mango leaves (fertility and prosperity). He begins the ceremony with the Vigneswara pooja, a prayer to Lord Vigneswara, the God of first beginnings and remover of obstacles.
Seated on the floor are Cieonna’s parents and her maternal uncle Nigesh Armon who is her godfather. He will also be responsible for the child’s well-being.
After chanting several mantras, the priest offers sankalpam mantra (prayer requests) on behalf of the parents to the Hindu Gods, seeking their blessings.
He then gently puts the baby on the floor, on a bed of raw rice and recites more mantras.
Shivarama says rice is a symbol of life. It is used in many Hindu samskaras – rite of passage – as it signifies transitional periods in a person’s life.
“Rice is a symbol of prosperity, fertility and auspiciousness. The newborn is placed on rice as it is a representation of blessings for the child’s future,” says the priest from the Maha Athi Nageswary Amman Temple in Puchong, Selangor.
The ceremony also includes feeding the newborn honey from Nigesh’s ring. It signifies his willingness to also be responsible in the child’s upbringing.
“Honey is sweet, to symbolise the sweetness the baby will experience throughout her life.
“It is also known that honey has natural antioxidants, and this will help with the child’s immune system,” says Shivarama.
The priest then whispers the baby’s name into her ears, followed by her parents, Nigesh and her grandparents. Soon after, the little child is adorned with gifts of gold.
“When chanting her name, we think of happy thoughts for the child. Blessings are made for Cieonna to grow up filled with happiness and spirituality.
“Jewellery is a symbol of prosperity and we pray she will live comfortably throughout her life,” says Shivarama.
After this ritual, the priest and family adjourn to the home altar to conduct a purification and sanctification ceremony.
The doors of the altar which have been kept shut for 30 days are now open and the family offers their prayers, after 30 days of observing the no prayer rule.
After the hour-long ceremony, Cieonna and her mother are allowed to go out of the house, marking the completion of the confinement period.
“As this is an auspicious event, mother and child are encouraged to pay homage to Surya, the Sun God,” adds Shivarama.
Her parents hope the name Cieonna will guide their daughter to grow up to be a shining bright star.